Christie’s upcoming Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on May 4 will include Pierre Bonnard’s Le petit déjeuner, an important interior scene from the artist’s last decade, a significant period of modernist innovation for the artist. Previously featured in museum retrospectives of the artist’s work at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others, this radiant 1936 painting has been in the private collection of the late arts patron Evelyn Annenberg Jaffe Hall since it was acquired more than sixty years ago.
Thanks to increased scholarship on this mature period in Bonnard’s career in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Bonnard’s late, great paintings and a re-appraisal of his importance within the canon of 20th century art. In the past 12 months alone, the world auction record price for any work by the artist has been broken twice, with the most recent price of US$ 11.4 million achieved for Terrasse à Vernon, sold at Christie’s London in February this year. Estimated at US$ 6-9 million, Le petit déjeuner is poised to become one of the artist’s top-selling works at auction.
Conor Jordan, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s New York, commented, “Bonnard’s free and expressive use of color and pervading sense of atmosphere lend a timeless quality to these meditations on domestic life. Le petit déjeuner in particular is prescient of modernist painting innovations to come – from the compressed sense of space to the ghostlike figure of Marthe at the periphery. The more you look at this work, the more its genius reveals itself.”
Executed in 1936, when the artist was approaching his 70th birthday, the painting depicts the second-floor sitting room of the small stucco house in Le Cannet, where Bonnard had retired with his wife Marthe. With his career in Paris as a member of the Nabis behind him, Bonnard’s style became more thoroughly individualistic, employing bolder and more creative experimentations with color and pattern. The result is a significant group of vivid domestic scenes, most often featuring Marthe seated at the breakfast table, with the verdant hills of Southern France visible through the window. In Le petit déjeuner, a second figure, possibly Bonnard himself, looks out directly at the viewer, his face captured in the mirror behind Marthe. This added autobiographical element is both curious and deliberate, having been repeated in two other views of the sitting room from the same period.
Known as a deeply introspective and private individual, Bonnard moved fluidly between styles and movements over the course of his career, defying easy categorization. He first gained fame in the late 1880s as a founder of the Nabi movement (“prophets” in Hebrew) alongside Edouard Vuillard and Paul Serusier, and experimented with flattened perspectives and decorative patterns of pure color. After splitting from the group to forge his own path, Bonnard explored drawing and painting from nature, taking on a more Impressionist style. He also looked to his own wife for inspiration, producing close to 400 paintings with Marthe as the focal point. By the mid-1920s, Bonnard had settled in Le Cannet and began to focus almost exclusively on his immediate surroundings, reducing his view of the world to nature seen through the window from within his small house. Among his preferred motifs was the small sitting room and the view beyond, which became the subject of more than 20 luminous oil paintings, including the magnificent Le petit déjeuner.
Widely exhibited and published, Le petit déjeuner has never before been offered at auction. It was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. William B. Jaffe in 1949. The couple assembled an outstanding private collection of fine art, and became major benefactors to New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
More highlights of the May 2011 Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art will be announced in the coming weeks. Christie’s previously announced it will offer Claude Monet’s Les Peupliers, one of the most celebrated of the pioneering artist’s great series of works from his years in Giverny. Estimated at US$ 20-30 million, the painting is offered from an important private collection and remains in pristine condition, in its original unvarnished and unlined state
Le petit déjeuner will be exhibited for the public at Christie’s London from April 16-19 and at Christie’s New York from April 29 – May 4.