Another Bonnard for Orsay

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
The Ballet, c. 1896
Oil on cardboard - 28 x 36 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Bailly-Pommery et Voutier

14/1/14 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée d’Orsay - There is no question that Bonnard will be very well represented at the Musée d’Orsay : a small oil on cardboard from around 1896 was pre-empted on 11 December 2013 at an auction held at the Hôtel Drouot by Bailly-Pommery et Voutier auctioneers. Estimated at between 100,000 and 120,000€, the Musée d’Orsay acquired it for 375,000€. The price seems rather high particularly since Orsay recently received a promised gift of about one hundred works by the artist (see news item of 29/1/11). The painting would perhaps have fit in more suitably at the monographic museum in Le Cannet which is specialized in Bonnard.

The composition is nonetheless charming, offering a high-angle view on a ballet, without flattening the dancers nor depriving them of their airiness ; they fill the stage in lines, each group executing a different dance step, in varying degrees of synchronization. The subtle allusion to Degas is obvious, but benevolent, devoid of the lustful eye of the male often found in many of the master’s paintings.
The close knit focus, the colors - shades of grayish-blue interspersed with the vaporous quality of the tulle - the swift and fuzzy strokes... give the impression that the downward look is inverted, becoming a celestial vision of figures floating above the black void formed by the orchestra.
There are few known representations of ballets by Bonnard (perhaps one of the reasons for this acquisition), except for the Dancers auctioned at Sotheby’s on 7 November 2013. However, they remind us that the artist collaborated with the Russian Ballet then the Swedish one, designing décors as well as a poster for which the Musée d’Orsay holds a preparatory study.

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Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 14 janvier 2014

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