Pierre Bonnard’s panels

Misia Edwards commissioned from Pierre Bonnard four panels for her apartment in rue Rivoli, 1906-1910.

Bonnard had begun the panels in August 1906, after returning from a cruise with Misia and Edwards aboard L’Aimee. He first presented them —Pleasure, Study, Play and Travel— at the 1910 Salon d’Automne.  While they were reviewed favourably in L’Art décoratif by art critic Louis Vauxcelles amongst others, some wondered if Bonnard was not commenting on Misia’s somewhat dissolute and decadent lifestyle since leaving Thadée, who was also still his close friend— given magpies are traditional symbols of gossip as well as pilferers of shiny objects, in this case pearls, and Geneviève Lantelme had demanded both Misia in her bed and Misia’s pearls around her neck, as fair recompense for agreeing to break off intimate relations with Edwards; while monkeys are base and uncouth, much like the odious Edwards himself in fact.The Salon d’Automne exhibition did not represent the official inauguration of the panels however. That took  place on Christmas Day, at Misia’s new apartmentin Quai Voltaire; a black-tie event, described by Vuillard as “an evening party for Bonnard’s panels”, attended by her closest friends, including Bonnard and Sert, naturally, Vuillard and many other painters, André Gide, Colette, Paul Poiret, Apollinaire, Max Jacob,  Cocteau, Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Tata Karsavina, the composers, Ravel, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, as well as the ailing Marcel Proust, who, it is said, ‘having uncharacteristically mustered up enough energy to visit the Quai Voltaire  apartment, remarked upon this sparkling underwater realm, which was in part due to Bonnard’s murals: “In the submarine salon of Madame Edwards / Sparkle the Bonnards, the fiscus plants and the quartz.”’ It must have been the dark green walls that had made such a nautical impression on the writer.


But then, as Gloria Groom, Senior Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, put it: ‘One can only imagine the effect these paintings had on the writers and musicians who frequented Misia’s apartment. Based on what Gustave Coquiot called “disciplined disorder” they are radically different from anything Bonnard painted before… highly personalized testaments of Bonnard’s close friendship with this remarkable woman. The panels were in many ways like Misia herself— passionate, voluptuous, and frenetic.

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