Bonnard’s The Green Blouse (1919)

Rika Burnham, Head of Education at the Metropolitan Museum, interprets paintings for museum visitors. In her own words, she "opens the eyes of people I teach but I believe, equally, they open my eyes as well." This is clearly an interesting and undiagnosed case of every painter painting herself. One visitor pointed out to her that in Bonnard's painting of The Green Blouse "the woman coming in from the left holds a knife in such a way that it points to the woman in the green blouse. Everyone stopped. We hadn't seen the knife. We wouldn't have understood the dark undertow of Bonnard's work which, in the end, is what makes it so interesting."1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Bonnard, The Green Blouse (1919) Metropolitan Museum, New York

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Viewers here know, however, that a knife in art, especially one held by a figure at the side, is almost always a metaphor for a paintbrush coming in from outside the painting.2 The colorful fruitbowl, glass jar and other objects on the table, placed between the artist outside and the principal figure, are further substitutes for the artist's work tools: palette, work-table, mixing jars and a long, thin box for paintbrushes etc. The woman in a green blouse in front of a shimmering yellow curtain is "the artist's painting", somewhat resembling a Renaissance Virgin in front of a green back-cloth. Meanwhile the androgynous figure at left (is it really a woman?) is "the painter."

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Bonnard, The Green Blouse (1919) Metropolitan Museum, New York
Right: Giovanni Bellini, Madonna degli Alberetti (1487) Accademia, Venice

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Note too how the "artist" holds the knife as though about "to stir the paint" on the plate, a loose reflection of the other woman stirring her drink with a teaspoon. The painter has painted himself as a woman making the same motions in a different context, one in which the "studio" still-life looks normal. Yes, viewers who see the knife may feel the dark undertow to which Ms. Burnham refers but others will find the image even more interesting as a moment in its own making inside Bonnard's mind. That's why his style looks so blurred: his images are coming into being.

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Bonnard's The Green Blouse

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Notes:

1. Metropolitan Museum website: Connections  (2011)

2. See the Theme: Executing Painting

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 23 Sep 2011. © 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.