Julie Heffernan on Pierre Bonnard

Painters On Paintings

bonnardnudeinyellowPierre Bonnard, Large Yellow Nude, 1931, Oil on canvas, 170 x 107.3 cms

I first saw Bonnard’s Large Yellow Nude at MOMA in 1998, and was immediately struck by what an exceedingly weird painting it is.  It effectively has no paint on it–just washes of paint, scumbles and scribbles, and a few dark brown clots on its lower portion.  The only really thick paint on it is those brown clots.  Artist and critic Robert Berlind, whose penetrating observation about it I heard years later, gave me the key to understanding its ground-breaking power.

Its subject is Marthe de Meligny whom Bonnard met on the street and followed to her home. She told him she was 16, and he didn’t find out until 32 years later, when he finally decided to marry her, that she was actually 24 when they met, and that her real name was Marie Boursin.  She sewed…

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