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Bust in profile, red background (study)

circa 1920


Pierre Bonnard


03 Oct 1867 - 23 Jan 1947


Demonstrating Pierre Bonnard’s status as an eminent colourist, ‘Bust in profile, red background’ is an experience of entangled seduction and harmony. Pictured either naked or bathing, the theme as in many of Bonnard’s paintings is his beloved wife Marthe, who is the catalyst for his studies on form and colour. With her neck fully elongated and her head curiously tilted to one side, Marthe bends down in an uncontrived manner with little consciousness of her husband nearby. Although the scene is a domestic one, Marthe’s unusual profile coupled with the earthy ochres and deep ambers evoke the tribal and animalistic elements of the body and intimacy.
At the centre of the foreground-based composition, Marthe’s bronzed face is delicately outlined with an untouched line of white canvas and illustrates Bonnard’s great sensitivity to colour and emotion. Whilst the left-hand side of the canvas is dominated by unharnessed colour and warmth, Bonnard paints a yellow striped sofa on the right to create structure and cool respite. Lying abandoned in one corner of the sofa are Marthe’s clothes, which further remind the viewer of her nakedness and the sensuality of the body. Despite Marthe’s self-absorption, ‘Bust in profile, red background' is a deeply intimate and adoring image of the relationship between husband and wife, as artist and muse and lovers alike. (EF)


Alternative title

Buste de profil, fond rouge (étude)


circa 1920

Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


46.0 x 52.0 cm stretcher; 73.0 x 78.0 x 9.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation and the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust 2000


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Pierre Bonnard

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history


Pierre Bonnard, circa 1920-1947, France, Estate no. 618

Private Collection, post 1947, New York/New York/United States of America, dates unknown

Nevill Keating Pictures Ltd, pre 24 Oct 2000, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from Nevill Keating Pictures Ltd 2000

Referenced in 6 publications


Edmund Capon, Look, 'And then there were two', pg.24-25, Melbourne, Jul 2001, 24, 25 (colour illus.).

Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano, Matisse e Bonnard, Viva la pittura!, Rome, 2006, 372, 373 (colour illus.).

Jean Dauberville and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, '1920-1939', Paris, 1966-1974, Vol.3, 67 (illus.). 1042

Matthew Kangas, William Cumming: the image of consequence, Seattle, 2005, (illus.). this work is not in this exhibition but is referred to in the catalogue

Angus Trumble, The Burlington Magazine, 'Bonnard', pg. 749-750, London, Oct 2003, 749. exhibition review

Jörg Zutter (Editor), Pierre Bonnard: observing nature, Canberra, 2003, 35 (colour illus.). fig.31,