Pierre Bonnard – Siesta (1900)

Of all the themes that an artist might tackle, sleep has always been one of my favorites. It’s highly versatile, as it can allude to deep, physical contentment, sexuality, escapism or the mystery of the subconscious. For me, it’s always been more about its physicality, the rejuvenating pleasure one might derive from it and the sweet relief of shutting down the chatter of the mind – if only for a brief amount of time.

In Siesta, French artist Pierre Bonnard depicted his main model and lifelong partner Marthe Boursin, lounging nude on a bed, during a pleasurable, afternoon nap. It is one of many paintings of Boursin – by some estimates, 384 artworks include the likeness of her – who is often portrayed naked and with a nonchalant youthfulness. Perhaps this goes back to how the couple met. Initially, Marthe lied about her identity and even her age, assuming a different last name (Marthe de Méligny) and claiming she was only 16 years old, when in fact she was 24, two years Bonnard’s junior. I assume that’s one of the perks of being petite – one gets a few extra years of youth.

Pierre Bonnard - Siesta
Pierre Bonnard – Siesta (1900), oil on canvas

So while Marthe was already 31 in this painting, she could easily pass as a 16-year old… yet again. The cluttered setup of her bedroom, with the messy bed and table next to her, and the clothes discarded on the floor, as well as the highly decorated walls with tapestry and wallpaper, create a detailed and chaotic cocoon around the curvature of her body, where our eyes rest. Marthe’s lush, sleeping pose was inspired by an ancient Greek marble sculpture called Sleeping Hermaphroditos. There is something very organic and fluid in the way she was rendered, like a feline stretching and purring. On the floor, a small, white dog is napping too, echoing the pleasurable sentiment.

The perspective is tilted, to give us a better, aerial view – if the laws of gravity applied, her body would tumble down. This artistic license, in turn, captures the contentment of Marthe’s siesta, suspended in time and space.

With the high temperatures and the increasingly unbearable, hot summer nights, even napping vicariously through a painting like this will do.

 

15 thoughts on “Pierre Bonnard – Siesta (1900)

  1. An early work but a nice painting and another example of an artist using an available model. Your description of the nude as organic and fluid is spot on. It was the first thing that struck me. It’s interesting too how Bonnard has the light strike more on the lower torso adding a little more of an erotic charge to the figure.
    Where do you find these paintings? I thought I had seen every Bonnard out there. I read somewhere that Bonnard said he never painted with the motif in front of him but would work from memory or return to look and then go back to the painting. He said that way he wouldn’t just be rendering a motif. It certainly worked for him.

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    1. I found a good chunk of the paintings via wikiart.org. That way I can look at different art movements or see related artists. The more popular painters have hundreds of works uploaded there, so it’s easy to find something more obscure.

      Huh, I didn’t know that he painted from memory. Picasso had criticized him for being “a pot-pourri of indecision”. I like that quote – in this new light, it shows the fluctuation of memory.

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  2. What can be said, except that its time for a siesta 🙂
    Just my imagination working here, but the bed sheets also made me think like she was floating on a sea while her feet rested on the shore , and the more crumpled corner where distant islands and mountains.
    One does float in dreams I suppose. Thank you for this luscious share 😉

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, I see what you’re doing! You’re working your way up to 200 comments. Thank you for being so supportive.

          I would feature more nudes, but they’re seen as anti-women, contributing to their objectification…

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  3. Looking at this again the anatomy and perspective is just agonizing, even if it works overall. Manet or Monet would never make those sort of tortuous mistakes. Neither would Mary Cassatt (though Gustave Caillebotte made some comically tiny hands on his boaters). That left foot is particularly painful and would work on a zombie. Oh, it’s ghastly! The shading makes it look gray.

    And that dog. It’s the same texture and color as those mysterious and obscene globs of fabric next to it. Are those her clothes, which match the bedding and the dog?

    That said, it works overall and I do like it. But it’s the difference between an A painter and a B painter. As I struggle with lighting, shading, anatomy, perspective and modeling it’s kinda’ reassuring to see some of the greats botch it horribly and get away with it.

    For this style, I like to say that the only thing worse than Bonnard is Vuillard. But both have done some spectacular works and deserve the recognition they have. I’m just taking solice in their glaring mistakes, ’cause often when you are an artist and you look at your own works you only see your mistakes.

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    1. Eric, I initially thought you were going to tear it to pieces! That would have been so unlike you. You’re totally right about the foot, the color is completely off there. But I’m actually relieved it looks like this. I had come across another (overall) darker version online, where the foot looked almost black, as if it had a gangrene. The original comes across as great in comparison.

      As a non-artist I also find solace in artists’ blunders or naive styles, though I can never be 100% sure when they’re completely off mark and when they simply want to try out a more non-cerebral approach to painting/drawing. Not dwelling on their misshapes is also a great exercise for life, in general: if you can forgive people’s flaws and mistakes and focus instead on their overall vibe, then life becomes so much easier and bearable.

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