Bonnard’s Woman with an Umbrella (1895)

This simple design by Bonnard is not what it seems. Bonnard's wire-rimmed glasses were such an iconic feature of his face that viewers of his art should always be alert for circular or oval shapes. Here the umbrella's handle, more circular than most, might represent his eye. If so, the contour of the woman's black dress below could be his "face." Indeed the sensation that we are looking at a facial profile in the dress is so strong that the umbrella, on second thoughts, must be his "mind's eye" above his real one.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Bonnard, Woman with an Umbrella from L'Album de la Revue Blance (1895) Lithograph

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I have not yet found an image of Bonnard in profile. However, compared to this slightly earlier photograph, one can sense the similarity. As I see it, the woman is Bonnard's alter ego with her far hand so loosely defined that it resembles a brush. She is emerging from her creator's androgynous mind, like Athena from Zeus' head, with an umbrella. Why an umbrella? Lithographic stones are washed with water so, in Bonnard's mind, she is being careful not to slip on the stone's wet surface during the making of this actual lithograph.  

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Bonnard's Woman with an Umbrella (1895)
Center: Photograph of Bonnard, c. 1890
Right: Diagram of Bonnard's Woman with an Umbrella

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Dario Gamboni noted the nose and mouth in his book on ambiguous images but, in not recognizing the umbrella handle as the eye, he failed to see the profile as Bonnard's own face. Gamboni, Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminancy in Modern Art (London: Reaktion Books) 2002, p. 100

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