76.2 x 61.0cm stretcher; 104.5 x 88.3 x 10.5cm frame
A founder member of the French Nabi movement and a radiant colourist, Pierre Bonnard painted almost a dozen self-portraits, most of them in later life. He very rarely dated these works, the first of which he painted while he was an art student of twenty-two, in 1889 (Private Collection). In the 1930s he developed an interest in depicting himself in front of a mirror; the last in this series is thought to have been completed in 1945, two years before his death.1
A self-portrait often implies an artist's direct engagement with a mirror, but unlike the Impressionists, Bonnard did not paint directly from the motif, preferring instead to make drawings, sketches and colour notes and then working up his paintings in the studio. He believed that painters capable of tackling the motif directly were very rare, declaring, 'It is not a matter of painting life. It's a matter of giving life to painting'.2 Like Matisse, he used colour and decoration determined the essential qualities of his art. Bonnard admired not only Japanese prints and screens but also Persian and Indian miniatures, capturing something of their iridescent multiplicity in this self-portrait with its brilliant orchestration of near and far views and its vibrant notes of Indian yellow, ultramarine, emerald green, creamy white and deep, reddish purple. With his eyes half closed behind Ghandi-style glasses, Bonnard cups his hands in a curious gesture, recalling his 1931 self-portrait known as 'The boxer' (Private Collection). But in this later self-portrait his raised hands conceal the initial occasion of his painting - a fleeting glimpse of his mirrored reflection quickly jotted down in a spontaneous drawing small enough to fit in the palm of one hand. It was that invisible little notebook drawing which blossomed over time into a poignant, almost painfully vulnerable self-portrait that fused pigment, flesh and atmosphere.
Fascinated by the possibilities of mirror reflections, Bonnard exploits them for their tantalizingly oblique glimpses into his private realm. In this self-portrait his pulpy, dark-skinned flesh, severed by the mirror's edge and transfixed by a harsh electric light, is squeezed into the narrow space behind the mirror's reflective surface. Our gaze is thence deflected by myriad smaller reflections and by the eyeglasses that mask his modest gaze.
Completed during the increasingly austere and dangerous years of the German Occupation in France, when Bonnard was living in Le Cannet near Cannes, this self-portrait echoes his growing sense of personal fragility and impending mortality. In 1930 the Surrealist poet Louis Aragon predicted: 'painting will become an anodyne amusement for young girls and old provincials'.3 In a post-Cubist climate some avant-garde critics dismissed Bonnard as old-fashioned and irrelevant. Their attacks had disturbed him and may have prompted the series of probing late self-portraits. In deep concentration, with an undiminished desire to understand and fulfil himself as an artist, Bonnard's self-portraits defied the climate of the times: 'I am working a lot, immersed more and more deeply in this outdated passion for painting. Perhaps with a few others, I am one of its last survivors'.4
1. Terrasse called this 'an internal examination of self' which showed an artist who 'lived at a remove from the world, sacrificing all to the passion for art' see Antoine Terrasse, 'Bonnard: The Colour of Daily Life', trans. Laurel Hirsch, Thames and Hudson, London 2000, p.108.
2. Angèle Lamotte, 'Le Bouquet de Roses – Propos de Pierre Bonnard recueillis en 1943', 'Verve 5', nos 17-18 (August 1947) n.p. Bonnard continues: '… those [painters] who were able to extricate themselves from it [the motif] had a very personal defence. Faced with the motif, Cézanne had a solid idea of what he wanted to do - taking from nature only what was relevant to his idea.' See also Bonnard 1946, in Antoine Terrasse, 'Les Notes de Bonnard' in 'Bonnard', Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1984, p.202
3. Louis Aragon, 'La Peinture au défie' quoted in Antoine Terrasse, 2000, p.96
4. Bonnard letter to his nephew, Charles Terrasse, 1933, quoted in Antoine Terrasse, 2000, pp.96-7
Wildenstein & Co. (United States of America, estab. 1903), New York/New York/United States of America, Purchased by the AGNSW from Wildenstein & Co. 1972
Andrée Bonnard-Terrasse (France, b.1872, d.Unknown), France, Bonnard's sister
Helle Crenzien (Denmark) (Curator), Self-Portrait, Denmark, 2012, 24, 63 (colour illus.). cat.no.10
Laura Cumming (Author), A face to the world on self-portraits, 2009, 149 (colour illus.).
Metropolitan Museum of Art (United States of America) (Author), Pierre Bonnard: the late still lifes and interiors, 2009, 47, 167 (colour illus.), 169. cat.no.74
Anthony Bond (England; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Wayne Tunnicliffe (New Zealand; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 2006, 425.
Complesso del Vittoriano (Italy) (Author), Matisse e Bonnard, Viva la pittura!, Rome, 2006, 476, 477 (colour illus.). cat.no.218
'Reflecting the artist's self' by Sasha Grishin, pg.8-9, The Canberra times 26 Feb 2006, 26 Feb 2006, Relax: 8 (colour illus.). Sunday supplement
Figaro magazine 14 Jan 2006, 14 Jan 2006, (colour illus.).
Anthony Bond (England; Australia) (Author), Joanna Woodall (England) (Author), SELF PORTRAIT: Renaissance to Contemporary, London, 2005, 27, 37, 174 (colour illus.), 175, 200. cat.no. 45
'Bonnard' by Angus Trumble, pg. 749-750, The Burlington Magazine Oct 2003, Oct 2003, 749, 750 (colour illus.). exhibition review
Jörg Zutter (Editor), Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature, Canberra, 2003, 67 (colour illus.), 68. fig.66, cat.55
Elizabeth Hutton Turner (United States of America) (Author), Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, London, 2002, 72 (colour illus.), 234 (colour illus.). fig. 87, plate 135
Lynne Seear (Australia) (Editor), Darkness & light: the art of William Robinson, South Brisbane, 2001, 39 (colour illus.).
'And then there were two' by Edmund Capon pg.24-25, Look Jul 2001, Jul 2001, 24 (colour illus.).
Bruce James (Australia) (Author), Edmund Capon (England; Australia, b.1940) (Director), Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, Domain, 1999, 61 (colour illus.).
Sarah Whitfield (United States of America) (Author), Bonnard, Millbank, 1998, 208, 209 (colour illus.), 269. cat.no. 78
Ewen McDonald (Australia) (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, Sydney, 1994, 163 (colour illus.).
Michel Terrasse (France) (Author), Bonnard at Le Cannet, London, 1988, 116 (illus.). as Autoportrait, Private Collection USA
Antoine Terrasse (France) (Author), Bonnard, France, 1988, (colour illus.). cat.no. 295
Annabel Davie (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales Handbook, Domain, 1988, 51 (colour illus.).
Kunsthaus Zürich (Switzerland) (Author), Pierre Bonnard, Zurich, 1984, 276, 277 (colour illus.). cat.no. 145
Edmund Capon (England; Australia, b.1940) (Editor), Jan Meek (Australia) (Editor), Portrait of a Gallery, Sydney, 1984, 93 (colour illus.).
'French Impressions' by Ross Steele pg. 87-93, Art and Australia (Vol. 22, No. 1) Spring 1984, Spring 1984, 92 (colour illus.), 93.
'Artist's Choice No.12 Pierre Bonnard: Self-portrait' by Peter Laverty, pg. 246-247., Art and Australia (Vol. 20, No. 2) Summer 1982, Summer 1982, 246, 247 (colour illus.).
'Pierre Bonnard: Self-portrait in the dressing-room mirror' by Renée Free. European Collection 1., Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection Series 1981, 1981, cover (colour illus.).
Clem Lloyd (Author), Peter Sekuless (Author), Australia's national collections, North Ryde, 1980, 256 (illus.).
'Pierre Bonnard: Self-portrait at 73' by Renee Free p6-9, AGNSW Annual 1974-1975, 1974-1975, 7 (illus.). fig.no. 1
'European Collection' by Renee Free p.63-75, Art and Australia [vol. 10, no. 1] Jul 1972, Jul 1972, 74 (illus.).
Editor Unknown (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Domain, 1972, cover (colour illus.).
Foundation Wildenstein (France) (Author), Pierre Bonnard, London, 1971, cover (colour illus.). cat.no. 36
Denys Sutton (England, b.1917, d.1991) (Author), Pierre Bonnard, England, 1966. cat.no. 246
Annette Vaillant (France) (Author), Bonnard, London, 1966, 137 (colour illus.). Originally published in french as Bonnard; ou, Le bonheur de voir. Neuchatel, Ides et Calendes, 1965.
'Recollections of Bonnard' by Charles Terrasse, Apollo Jan 1966, Jan 1966, 63 (illus.).
Jean Dauberville (France) (Author), Henry Dauberville (France) (Author), Bonnard catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1966-1974, Vol. 4, 37 (illus.). cat.no. 1599, 'Portrait du peintre par lui-même'
James Elliott (United States of America) (Curator), Monroe Wheeler (United States of America) (Curator), Bonnard and his environment, New York, 1964, 98 (colour illus.). cat.no. 74
Accessions and Proposals, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 30 Apr 1964–24 May 1964.
Bonnard and his Environment, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 07 Oct 1964–29 Nov 1964.
Bonnard and his Environment, The Art Institute of Chicago, 08 Jan 1965–28 Feb 1965.
Bonnard and his Environment, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 31 Mar 1965–30 May 1965.
Pierre Bonnard, Royal Academy of Arts, 06 Jan 1966–06 Mar 1966.
Pierre Bonnard, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], May 1971–mid Jun 1971.
Pierre Bonnard, Art Gallery of South Australia, 24 Jun 1971–25 Jul 1971.
Pierre Bonnard, Art Gallery of Western Australia, 06 Aug 1971–12 Sep 1971.
Pierre Bonnard, Australian Museum, 15 Oct 1971–10 Nov 1971.
Bonnard, Kunsthaus Zürich, 14 Dec 1984–10 Mar 1985.
Bonnard, Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, 03 May 1985–14 Jul 1985.
The Last Gaze. Late self-portraits (from Bonnard to Bacon), Museu D'Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 16 Oct 1997–06 Jan 1998.
Bonnard, Tate Britain, 12 Feb 1998–17 May 1998.
Bonnard, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 17 Jun 1998–13 Oct 1998.
Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, The Phillips Collection, 22 Sep 2002–19 Jan 2003.
Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, Denver Art Museum, 01 Mar 2003–25 May 2003.
Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature, Queensland Art Gallery, 04 Jul 2003–28 Sep 2003.
Self portrait: Renaissance to contemporary, National Portrait Gallery, London, 20 Oct 2005–29 Jan 2006.
Self portrait: Renaissance to contemporary, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 17 Feb 2006–14 May 2006.
Bonnard, Matisse and the Mediterranean, Complesso del Vittoriano, 06 Oct 2006–04 Feb 2007.
Pierre Bonnard: The late interiors, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 26 Jan 2009–19 Apr 2009.
From Van Gogh to FaceTime. Self Portraits in the 20th and 21st Centuries, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 14 Sep 2012–13 Jan 2013.