Pierre Bonnard - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "I am still cohabiting with your mysterious
    and alluring canvas."
    —Henri Matisse to Pierre Bonnard, May 7, 1946


    Letter from Henri Matisse to Pierre Bonnard, May 7, 1946



    Panier de fruit is an outstanding example of Pierre Bonnard’s late still lifes that not only holds a storied provenance, but also encapsulates the ultimate technical endeavors of the artist’s career. In 1946, Henri Matisse lent Bonnard two paintings he had just made—Asia, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, and Woman in White, Des Moines Art Center—and, in return, Bonnard lent him Panier de fruit. Matisse was clearly enchanted by the present work, expressing his captivation with the painting in a postscript of his letter to Bonnard later that May. Subsequently owned by the Reader’s Digest Association for half a century, one of the world’s premier corporate art collections of its time, Panier de fruit featured in the artist’s major survey, Bonnard and His Environment, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1964.


    Enduring Inspiration in Le Bosquet


    "I have all my subjects at hand. I go visit them. I take notes. And before I start to paint, I meditate, daydream. It is the things close at hand that give an idea of the universe as the human eye sees it..."
    —Pierre Bonnard


    A splendid manifestation of Bonnard’s words, Panier de fruit reimagines a basket of fruit in the artist’s dining room, just downstairs from his modest studio at Le Bosquet—his long-time home in Le Cannet overlooking the Mediterranean in the south of France—where he would find his most enduring and profound source of inspiration. “The downstairs dining room…provide[d] the constructs for some of his finest interiors and still lifes,” Dita Amory observed. “It was not in the studio that he found his source of inspiration. That was left to the rooms of Le Bosquet…In the familiar, Bonnard discovered infinite possibilities.”i



    [left] Brassaï (Gyula Halász), Pierre Bonnard's dining room at Le Bosquet, 1946. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Michèle Bellot, Artwork: © Estate Brassaï-RMN Grand Palais [right] Pierre Bonnard, Basket of Fruit Reflected in a Mirror, circa 1944-1946. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


    His grand-nephew Michel Terrasse recalled, “On the dining room table covered in red felt stood baskets with tall handles of plaited osier or raffia—somewhere to put the peonies and mimosa, the oranges, lemons and persimmons gathered, with the figs, from the garden.”ii One of Bonnard’s signature leitmotifs, the luscious bounty of fruits is gathered in a shallow wicker basket that is recognizable from photographs of the artist’s dining room and some of the best works of his final years, including Basket of Fruit Reflected in a Mirror, circa 1944-46, currently residing at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.



    The Legacy of Bonnard's Late Paintings



    Peter Doig, Pink Snow, 1991. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Peter Doig/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Infusing ordinary objects with a majestic presence, Panier de fruit situates itself within the longstanding tradition of still life, evoking Chardin and preceding Morandi with the expression of elevating the seemingly mundane to the spiritual. Like these artists, “Bonnard was acutely aware of the capacity of large geometric forms to become vessels: to contain or hold in space even the most complex objects or arrangements of objects,” Amory elucidated.iii David Sylvester further elaborated on this effect, noting: “Each plate or dish or basket is an ellipse, a self-contained form, a form that is, so to speak, wrapped up in itself....And this emphasis on their self-containment is reinforced by the fact that the brushstrokes of the tablecloth at the periphery of some of the ellipses also follow their form, making a sort of aura around them.”iv


    "Somehow [Bonnard] is painting the space that is behind the eyes. It's as if you were lying in bed trying hard to remember what something looked like. And Bonnard managed to paint that strange state. It is not a photographic space at all. It is a memory space, but one which is based on reality."
    —Peter Doig




    Pierre Bonnard, Still Life (Table with Bowl of Fruit), 1939. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


    Coalescing various levels of perspective into one image, the present work demonstrates Bonnard’s fascination with visual perception. Often constructing his compositions around bold verticals and diagonals, the artist frequently explored unexpected formal innovations through complex spatial manipulations, often compressing the pictorial space for the eye to scan the painterly surface and discover discrete details through the act of looking. Like Cézanne and later Picasso, Bonnard tilts the tabletop towards the viewer, condensing the visual space between the wainscoting and table edge with a sharp diagonal plane whilst suggesting additional glimpses of the table’s contents into the compositional framework. “The more one looks at Bonnard’s late paintings...the more they seem like evocations of a dream state, or in any case of a kind of reverie,” Jack Flam explained. “The way his paintings slow down our process of viewing, the perspectival and structural contradictions they contain, even the difficulty we have in identifying certain objects, suggest another level of consciousness, a mental world that imposes its own structure of time and memory upon the objects of everyday life.”v



    "The finest of his late pictures throb with intensity. He secured a magical transformation of the real world so that the interior of his studio or his garden at Le Cannet assume an infectious radiance. His rich orchestration of color records a world which was on the verge of disappearing at the end of his life."
    —Denys Sutton



    Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950. Private Collection, Artwork: © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 



    Admired by such diverse artists from Milton Avery to Mark Rothko, Patrick Heron to Peter Doig, Bonnard found color as the ultimate means of experiencing the world and “it was through color, not line, that pictures took hold in his imagination.”vi In the artist’s words, “Color has a logic as severe as form...To retouch an accent makes it discordant with the neighboring tone; they must then be reharmonized; but the second tone now seems to clash with its neighbor; they must be reharmonized. And, from one to the next, they all jostle each other.”vii Ever expanding upon his initial revelations of color as a japoniste Nabi, his late works unveil an unleashed freedom, allowing his interiors to radiate luminosity. As Panier de fruit testifies, he increasingly incorporated the glimmering effects of the natural light streaming through the large window by the walls of his studio into his canvases, fusing the interior with the exterior, containment and liberation.



    i Dita Amory, “Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947): The Late Interiors,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 2010.
    ii Michel Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard et Le Cannet, Paris, 1987, p. 14.
    iii Dita Amory, “The Presence of Objects: Still Life in Bonnard’s Late Paintings,” in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p. 7.
    iv David Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays, 1948–96, London, 1996, p. 107.
    v Jack Flam, “Bonnard in the History of Twentieth-Century Art,” in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p. 54.
    vi Dita Amory, “The Presence of Objects: Still Life in Bonnard’s Late Paintings,” in ibid., p. 22.
    vii Pierre Bonnard, quoted in André Fermigier, Pierre Bonnard, New York, 1984, p. 38.

    • Provenance

      Henri Matisse (acquired directly from the artist)
      Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1946)
      The Reader's Digest, Pleasantville (acquired from the above in 1948)
      The Reader's Digest Collection, Sotheby's, New York, November 16, 1998, lot 33
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Reader's Digest Collection, May 15 - June 8, 1963, p. 20 (illustrated, p. 21)
      New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bonnard and His Environment, October 7, 1964 - May 30, 1965, no. 82, p. 109 (illustrated, p. 105)
      Tokyo, Palaceside Building, Forty Paintings from The Reader's Digest Collection, October 6-30, 1966, no. 1, p. 6 (illustrated, p. 10)
      New York, Wildenstein & Co.; Saint Paul, Macalester College; Rochester, Meadow Brook Hall; Stuttgart, Valentin Gallery; London, Wildenstein Gallery; Milan, Palazzo Reale; Paris, Musée Marmottan, Selections from The Reader's Digest Collection, September 10, 1985 - April 6, 1986, pp. 8, 81 (illustrated, p. 9)
      Auckland City Art Gallery, The Reader's Digest Collection: Manet to Picasso, March 23 - May 7, 1989, pp. 12, 93 (illustrated, p. 13)

    • Literature

      Jean and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue Raisonné de l'oeuvre Peint 1940-1947, vol. 4, Paris, 1974, no. 1679, p. 97 (illustrated)
      Michel Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard et Le Cannet, Paris, 1987, p. 71 (illustrated; titled as Corbeille de fruits)
      Jean Clair, Bonnard/Matisse: Letters Between Friends, New York, 1991, p. 130 (illustrated, p. 132)
      Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p. 22

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection


Panier de fruit

signed "Bonnard" upper right
oil on canvas
23 3/4 x 18 3/4 in. (60.3 x 47.6 cm)
Painted circa 1946.

Full Cataloguing

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $4,991,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021