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The Mirror above the Sink

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1908, 120×97 cm • Oil, Wood

Description of the artwork «The Mirror above the Sink»

In 1908, a French writer Andre Gide came to an auction in Paris. He described this life episode in his “Journals”: “A Bonnard is put up at auction, rather badly put together, but racy, it represents a naked woman dressing and I have already seen it somewhere or other. It climbs rather painfully to 450, 455, 460. Suddenly I hear a voice shout “600”— And I am dazed, for I myself am the one who just shouted. With my eyes, I implore a higher bid from those around me —for I have no desire to own the painting — but nothing is forthcoming…”

The future Nobel prize winner has bought the other painting by Bonnard (this one was kept at Ivan Morozov collection up to 1919). But he could have bought it as well: Pierre Bonnard painted so many mirrors and bathers (1, 2, 3) in 1908, he was obsessed with this subject and repeated it again and again. Some of the canvases from his “toilet” series differ only in nuances. Almost all of them had a pathological charm, enchanting a viewer as if against his or her will. What made Andre Gide to raise his hand with a bid? Why Valentin Serov, the renowned master of psychological portrait, fell captive to “The Mirror above the Sink”? The artist considered this canvas the main treasure of Morozov collection.

The story is secondary in here. A shelf under the mirror is stuffed by household utensils in a petty bourgeois way. This is rather a still life than a sensual nude. It’s annoyingly decorative. And this is also a portrait to some extent (one can recognize features of the future Bonnard’s wife, Marthe Boursin in a girl with a cup). It seems that the painting suffers from overpopulation with subjects, genres, utensils, and furniture. As if it wasn’t enough, the mirror does not extend the space but chops it in a paradoxical way, localizing a frame in a frame.

At first glance, the only sure win of this claustrophobical canvas is a pearl palette of Bonnard, his virtuoso mastering of color. Although, there is something more to it. The painting gives a lot but it promises even more. Probably, Gide and Serov, having a special creative flair, anticipated the evolution of Bonnard, like entomologists seeing a beautiful butterfly in a chrysalis, looking aesthetically rather controversial.

Some biographers think that close interiors and permanent bathing procedures are connected to mental instability of Bonnard’s model, muse, and wife. Marthe was afraid of open spaces and obsessively fixated on hygiene. It’s equally clear that Bonnard himself was fixed on the cleanliness, not literally at least.

For years, he has been cleaning his style off the influences, scrubbing it out to the highest performance level. He washed away the foam of scenes, genres, manifests, principals, restrictions and schools. And he finally cleaned it up nice, coming first to the pure color and later on – to the pure light, which he himself called “his God”.
It is said that shortly before his death, Pierre Bonnard told some shopkeeper that he «has found a new paint.» When he was asked “which one?” the artist replied: “White,” without blinking an eye.

The world indeed benefitted after Bonnard had failed as a lawyer and left his promising post at the Prosecutor’s Office. However, had the fate determined otherwise, there could be no doubt that Bonnard would have been a Prosecutor of complete integrity.

Author: Andrew Zimoglyadov
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About the artwork
Subject and objects: Nude, Interior
Style of art and technique: Post-Impressionism, Oil

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