Bonnard’s Fruit on a Red Tablecloth (c.1943)

All art in EPPH's still-unproved theory depicts a mental image, even in this painting of fruit on a table by Pierre Bonnard (below). Our own mental images, of course, are not like photographs in "true" Renaissance perspective. They are believed to be glimpses of different parts of the whole from different viewpoints simultaneously which is precisely how both Mozart and Beethoven described their conception of a composition and how Picasso conveys his in Cubism too.1 Little-known, though, is that hundreds of artists since the Middle Ages have depicted mental images in similar ways, through caricature, distortion, anamorphosis and fragmentation. The resulting passages in their art, though, are usually dismissed as stylistic effects without meaning.

In this seemingly simple still-life painted by Bonnard during World War II an oval basket of peaches and black grapes sits on a supposedly rectangular green plate, the border of which seems to bend out of control behind the fruit. In the real world it would have looked rectangular but not here.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Bonnard, Fruit on a Red Tablecloth (c.1943) Oil on canvas. Private Collection.

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The expressively-depicted fruit, though, bear a striking resemblance in their overall form to the bespectacled Bonnard. The mental image of himself imposed on his motif, the bowl of fruit, makes his "eye" on the left look swollen and closed, the other open with a "pupil" visible. This, of course, is in line with the theme that artists fuse two forms of vision: one inwards (closed), the other open to the world.2 The distortion here also seems to emphasize the four senses of vision, smell (swollen nose), hearing (swollen ear) and taste (the fruit itself). The fifth is the artist's own touch which is classically identified in art with the act of painting itself.3

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Captions for image(s) above:

All four images by Bonnard
Top L: Detail rotated of Fruit on a Red Tablecloth (c.1943)
Top R: Detail of Self-portrait (1939-42) 
Bottom: Diagram of Fruit on a Red Tablecloth (c.1943)

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With his head on a platter, Bonnard identifies with the great Italian artists whose decapitated heads, often a self-portrait, emphasize the fact that every painter paints himself. As I have often pointed out, a masterpiece in Italian is capolavoro which literally means head work.  The executed head [execution is another artistic pun] is thus both the artist and his painting, obect and subject united. The two are one.





 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Detail rotated of Bonnard's Fruit on a Red Tablecloth (c.1943) 
​Top R: Wencelaus Hollar, Engraving after Giorgione's Self-portrait as David 
Bottom L: Titian, Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist (c.1515) with Titian's self-portrait on the platter
Bottom R: Andrea Solario, Salome Receiving the Head of St John the Baptist (c.1506-7) with 

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Notes:

1. Mozart said that on completing a long composition he could "survey it, like a fine picture or beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once." Mozart's comparison of a mental image to a work of art that can be seen from all sides simultaneously must be accurate because Beethoven described his thought in similar terms: "...in my head, I begin to elaborate the work in its breadth, its narrowness, its height, and its depth, and as I am aware of what I want to do, the underlying idea never deserts me. It rides, it grows up. I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle, as if it had been cast..." “Mozart: A Letter” in Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process (New York: The New American Library) 1952, p.45; Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, ed. M. Hamburger (New York: Pantheon Books) 1952, p. 195, cited in Albert Rothenberg, “Homospatial Thinking in Creativity”, Archives of General Psychiatry 33, 1976, p.20. See also Abrahams, Cubism Explained (2011) on EPPH.

2. See the theme Insight-Outsight.

3. See examples under the theme Pointing and Touch.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 12 Jun 2015. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.