Pierre Bonnard - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gustave Geoffroy, Paris
    Paul Pétridès, Paris
    Acquired from the above circa 1980, and thence by descent

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Autour de 1900, 1950, no. 28 (titled La place Clichy le soir, dated 1899)
    Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Cent chefs-d’oeuvre des collections particulières, 1961, no. 99 (titled Les Modistes de la rue Royale)
    Paris, Galerie Paul Pétridès, 50 toiles de maîtres, May - June 1969, no. 10, n.p. (illustrated, dated 1900)
    Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, Bonnard dans sa lumière, July 12 - September 28, 1975, no. 13, p. 113 (illustrated with erroneous dimensions, p. 51)
    Paris, Galerie Daniel Malingue, Maîtres impressionnistes et modernes, March 14 - April 26, 1980, no. 1, n.p. (illustrated)
    Geneva, Musée Rath, Pierre Bonnard, April 9 - June 8, 1981, no. 15, n.p. (illustrated)
    Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Bonnard, June 7 - October 13, 1991, no. 20, p. 147 (illustrated, p. 52; titled Deux Elégantes, Place Clichy)
    Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Bonnard, June 11 - November 14, 1999, no. 12, p. 58 (illustrated, p. 59)

  • Literature

    Jacques de Laprade, Bonnard, Lyon, 1944, pl. 3, n.p. (illustrated, dated 1900)
    Jean and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard, catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, Paris, 1965, no. 317, p. 289 (illustrated)
    Jean and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint révisé et augmenté, Paris, 1992, no. 317, p. 289 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I invent nothing. I observe.” – Pierre Bonnard

    In Pierre Bonnard’s Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes, painted circa 1905, the viewer is plunged into the throng of the Parisian nightlife. There is a sense of physical proximity with the women shown in the foreground, who dominate the composition, while the background dissolves into both the distance and a relative blur. Despite the nocturnal atmosphere of this painting, it is dominated by the bright colors of the central woman’s coat, which itself appears to have captured some of the artificial light of the street, allowing Bonnard to showcase his celebrated ability to examine and capture the greatest subtleties of hue, even in a work that conveys a sense of movement. Considering the balance between observation and the rapid motion of daily life in Paris, it is telling that Bonnard would refer to “the work of art” as “a stopping of time” (Pierre Bonnard, quoted in Sarah Whitfield and John Elderfield, Bonnard, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 47).

    Alongside his friend Henri Matisse, Bonnard is considered one of the great colorists of the 20th century. His importance has been recognized in numerous exhibitions, and he will be celebrated in a large-scale survey at Tate, London in early 2019. Over the years, Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes has been featured in a number of exhibitions dedicated to Bonnard, as well as in wider-ranging shows. Indeed, when this picture was included in a survey of masterpieces from private collections held at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, in 1961, it was referred to as one of the “most important works in Bonnard’s first style” (Cent chefs d’oeuvre des collections particulières, exh. checklist, Musée Jacquemant André, Paris, 1961). Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes was one of the works selected for illustration in Jacques de Laprade’s 1944 monograph of the artist, published only a few years before Bonnard’s death.

    In that book, as in the 1961 exhibition, Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes was ascribed a date of circa 1900, placing it within the period of his “first style”. It is now believed to have been painted around 1905. Certainly, with the dark background and urban theme, it is clear that Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes was painted relatively near the beginning of his career, only a little more than a decade after he had given up a life as a lawyer to become an artist. By the time he painted Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes, Bonnard had already gained considerable acclaim, with his works shown in various galleries during the 1890s. His intimate views of Parisian interiors, which often featured a bold use of fields of color to decorative effect, were perhaps his best-known works during the period. However, Bonnard was also a keen chronicler of cosmopolitan life in the French capital. Several of the studios that he had during this period were around the rue Pigalle and Place Clichy, giving him easy access to views such as the one shown here. This picture exemplifies the way in which Bonnard was able to transfer the same intimisme that rendered his interiors so evocative to the anonymous throng of life on the streets of Paris at night. The pools of light in the coat and face of the women in the foreground are a blaze of activity, while the background gradually breaks up, veering towards darkness, punctuated only by the glare of windows and advertisements.

    The subject matter in Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes clearly owes itself to the views of Paris that Bonnard created during his “Nabi” period. These works were created in various media, for instance his painting Place Clichy from around 1894, now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, his famous poster for La revue blanche from that year, with which it shares compositional elements, and his illustrations in the book Quelques aspects de la vie de Paris, published in 1895. This was the period when Bonnard sought new ways of painting, learning from the radical example of Paul Gauguin, alongside his fellow “Nabis”, the self-proclaimed “prophets”, who included artists Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier and Édouard Vuillard. However, the vivid brushwork and the delicate attention to minute details of color, light and tone in Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes reveal the influence of the Impressionists, whose works Bonnard had only discovered later. This liberated his palette, as is visible in the luminosity that dominates Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes, especially in the main figure’s coat and the effervescent decorations of her neighbor’s hat.

    Considering the influence of the Impressionists on Bonnard’s work at this time, it is a telling accolade that this painting was one of several by the artist that were owned by the prominent art critic, Gustave Geoffroy. A friend and biographer of Claude Monet, as well as a great supporter of Auguste Rodin, Geoffroy was also immortalized in a celebrated portrait by Paul Cézanne. Writing about Bonnard in 1896, almost ten years before he painted Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes, Geoffroy would discuss the artist in terms that are no less applicable here, “No-one notes more finely the street’s aspect, the passing silhouettes, the patch of color seen through the thin Parisian mist...It is the poetry of the life which has been, the memory of things…of human beings” (Gustave Geoffroy, quoted in “Pierre Bonnard”, Le journal, January 8, 1896, p. 1).

Property from a Distinguished French Collection


Place Clichy ou les deux élégantes

stamped with the artist's signature "Bonnard" lower left
oil on cardboard mounted on panel
28 3/4 x 23 5/8 in. (73 x 60 cm.)
Painted circa 1905.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $807,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018