Femme au chapeau, c.1924
Signed with initials lower right 'PB'
Charcoal on paper
7 1/4 x 5 1/4 in, 18.4 x 13.4 cm
'Colour has taken me too far away, and almost unconsciously, I sacrificed form to it. But form truly exists, and one cannot arbitrarily and indefinitely transpose it. Because of that...
"Colour has taken me too far away, and almost unconsciously, I sacrificed form to it. But form truly exists, and one cannot arbitrarily and indefinitely transpose it. Because of that I must learn to draw all over again: I am drawing incessantly."
Pierre Bonnard’s intimate drawing of a woman in a hat reveals the Nabi painter’s exquisite skills as a draughtsman alongside his famed ability with colour and tone. Bonnard often spoke of feeling weak and distracted in front of nature, preferring to make drawings rather than painting directly from life. These precise sketches were filled with nuanced details of Bonnard’s personal vision of the world, like shorthand memories of the artist’s character and life. Unlike other artists and their preparatory sketches, Bonnard’s drawings were not arranged or composed, but captured the entirety of a scene as the artist experienced it. Bonnard used these expressive drawings in pencil or pen as a vital link between his experience of nature and the vibrant paintings on his easel, explaining: “drawing is sensation – colour is reasoning”.
The model for ‘Femme au chapeau’ is likely to be Marthe de Méligny, whom the artist met in 1893 and eventually married in 1925. Bonnard was infatuated with Marthe’s image and filled his sketchbooks with drawings of her bathing and washing at their home in Le Cannet. In this image, the young model lifts her face beneath a cloche hat, her hair cropped in the fashionable manner of the 1920s and her neck adorned with a string of beads. The elegant style of this woman and her likeness to paintings such as ‘Conversation in Arcachon’ (1926-30) (Petit Palais, Paris) and ‘The Red Dress’ (1927), featured in the Hayward retrospective of 1994, dates this drawing to the 1920s.
Celebrated as one of the greatest colourists of modern art, Bonnard is also considered an important graphic artist, having designed posters and illustrations for La Revue Blanche and a series of lithographs for the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard. ‘Femme au chapeau’ was originally in the collection of Jos and Lucy Hessel, the famous art dealers who became the particular patrons of Bonnard’s fellow Nabi, Édouard Vuillard. The Hessel’s collection of Vuillard, Bonnard, Maurice Denis and Aristide Maillol was seen as one of the most important collections of 20th century art and this work was acquired directly from their estate sale.
Jos & Lucy Hessel, Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
Lucie Grandjean-Hessel (thence by descent)
Private Collection, France
This work is recorded in the archives of Bernheim-Jeune & Cie and is accompanied by a letter issued by Guy-Patrice and Floraine Dauberville, dated 30 March 2018 that confirms its authenticity