Musée d'Orsay: Pierre Bonnard In a Boat

Pierre Bonnard
In a Boat

In a Boat
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
In a Boat
Circa 1907
Oil on canvas
H. 278; W. 301 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

En barque [In a Boat]

After buying a house in Vernon, a town in Normandy on the banks of the Seine, Bonnard bought a boat. It gave him an opportunity to paint a commonplace scene which had become a recurrent theme since the Impressionists. This picture is one of three versions of his companion Marthe in a boat, with their dog. The childish, family atmosphere is that of pleasant countryside, an idyllic Arcadia.
Set in the middle of the picture, the young woman is portrayed from the waist up, wearing a flowery hat and holding a black dog in her arms; both are cut off by the lower edge of the frame. The spectator is included in the scene by this unusual cropping, as if he were also in the truncated boat.

The picture reveals Bonnard's shift back to Impressionism after a period with the Nabis. However, it has kept the Nabis' taste for decorative painting, close to the style of tapestries – a sort of osmosis between man and nature. The use of colour is unusual and far from natural: the bright orange boat and the yellow dog take on red or blue reflections, saturated hues mingle with muted tones. The dilated space and the confusion between the foreground and the background are also unusual. Reality is treated directly but in a way which adds a sense of mystery to the appearance of things. After 1905, Bonnard produced infinite variations on a few central themes such as landscapes and still lifes, and the human figure in atmospheres of blinding summer sunshine and blissful happiness.

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