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European & American Art
Fauvism / School of Paris gallery

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France 1867 – 1947

Woman in front of a mirror [Femme devant un miroir] c.1908 France
paintings, oil on canvas
Technique: oil on canvas
Primary Insc: signed l.l., oil, "Bonnard", not dated
124.2 h x 47.4 w cm
framed 150.7 h x 74.0 w x 9.0 d
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Accession No: NGA 98.129
Subject: Art style: Les Nabi

  • presumed to be with Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, (Bernheim-Jeune neg. no. 09740, Vizzavona neg. no. 2.1697);
  • Mr. B., Paris, until 1953;
  • Akram Ojjeh (1923?-1991), Paris;
  • from whom bought by Stephen Hahn, New York, through Paul Haim, Paris, from c.1975 until at least 1989;
  • private collection;
  • with Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris;
  • through whom bought by the National Gallery of Australia, August 1998
  • One can imagine Pierre Bonnard posing his partner Marthe in front of a mirror and, like an Impressionist, capturing her bathed in light. He rarely painted in front of the subject, because he said it distracted him from his work, and Marthe never formally posed for him. Instead he preferred to work from memory on several canvases at a time, pinning them to the studio wall and walking back and forth from his paints to apply a dab here and there.

    Bonnard hoped to recreate how one sees a room in the first, somewhat unfocused moment of entering it. He concentrated on an expressive use of colour and on composition, believing that ‘faults’ can give life to a picture: which could account for the patterns of floor and bed appearing as flat as the wallpaper, and for the unfaithful reflection in the mirror—something also to be seen in works by other artists. Picasso, who ridiculed Bonnard’s work, nonetheless described it accurately:

    [Bonnard] fills the whole picture surface, to form a continuous field, with a kind of imperceptible quivering, touch by touch, centimetre by centimetre, but with a total absence of contrast … It’s an extremely orchestrated surface developed like an organic whole.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008