Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Pierre Bonnard: Nude in The Bathtub - A Critical Response


Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Nude in Bathtub (c 1938-41), oil on canvas, 121.9 x 151.1 cm, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA. The Athenaeum.

This image by Bonnard is one of many that show Martha, his mistress bathing.  This period in Bonnard's work just prior to the second world war, he spent in France on the coast of Normandy exploring the colour and light.  

Bonnard was part of a group of painters that called themselves Les Nabis, this came from the Hebrew word for prophet.  'Les Nabis used flat patches of colour, and admired Japanese prints and the work of Paul Gauguin. Gauguin was known for experimenting with colour. Bonnard worked in the years following Gauguin's death in 1903 and was directly influenced by his style.' (Tate 2020)

Bonnard was a post-impressionist and intimist and as stated he was highly influenced by Gauguin's use of bold vivid colour.  In this image we can see how he has used bright yellows, purples, blues on the tiles surrounding the bathtub, this colour palette also reflected on Martha's body, the floor the tub reminds the viewer of a bright summers day, the warm colours and French light in mid-summer.  Martha's body is relaxed and this intimacy of seeing he rin the bath that Bonnard shares is the gift that gives to the viewer.  The dog lying on the floor represents loyalty and domestic scenes which is what Bonnard is most fond of produce that intimacy as we are allowed into a private space.  

When looking at this work it feels as if we are a quiet eye looking on as Bonnard did at the person he loved the most in the world, Martha. 'Pierre Bonnard met Marthe Boursin getting off a Parisian streetcar in 1893 and they remained together until her death in 1942, although they didn’t marry for at least thirty years.' (Linely 14/03/19)

As a photographer when I consider this work by Bonnard, I consider how he has used the light and the colour of the light.  The French light here in mid-summer is very distinctive and as one of my favourite place in the world is Cognac, France, I understand this light, it's gentle orange/yellow warmth that permeates the image.  When looking through the lens and photographing flesh this is same light is present.  I photograph often in black and white but in France, I see this light and how it changes through the day and through my lens it touches everything in the frame to create this feeling of intimacy and warmth.  Bonnard demonstrates the pleasure of intimacy, love, his place in the world through these colours.  


Hockley (15/08/18) The Eclectic Light Company, Pierre Bonnard: At home with Marthe, 1937-1943 [online] Available from: (Accessed 11th November 2020)

Tate (2020) Eight Essentials to Know about Pierre Bonnard [Online] Available from: (Accessed 11th November 2020) 

Linely N. (14/03/19) Oxonian Review, Marthe [Online] Available from: (Accessed 11th November 2020) 

Sherwin (25/01/18) The Guardian, Pierre Bonnard’s Nude in the Bath: a woman in the tub or a corpse entombed? [Online] Available From:  (Accessed 11th November 2020) 

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