Pierre Bonnard
(Fontenay-aux-Roses, Seine, 1867-1947, Le Cannet)
Ambroise Vollard, ca. 1904
Oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm
Signed lower left: Bonnard
Dauberville 304
Bonnard painted but few portraits. He characteristically subordinates people to his compositions and so deprives them of their individuality. His reserve, even before friends, hampers him as a portraitist. Bonnard in general worked from memory, on the basis of a few notes, and this applies too to his portraits, with which he would surprise the subject.
The portrait of the avant-garde art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard, with whom he had been associated since the establishment of his gallery in the Rue Laffitte in 1893, seems to be an exception to this rule. Vollard in his memoirs speaks expressly of sittings when he had to struggle with the restless cat on his lap, now to be seen in his portrait kept in the Kunsthaus Zurich. The bust of Vollard is a preliminary study to this painting. It is so spontaneous and full of such sharp characterization that the immediate presence of the model is felt.
The painting was done around 1904, and the palette is brightened, the picture being defined by the pale-grey wall done with a broad spatula, on which wall hangs a bluish-green landscape painting, clearly representing a work by Cézanne, although it cannot be identified with a specific painting by the artist. Its presence in the picture refers to the importance for the quickly expanding reputation of Cézanne which Vollard as the artist's first dealer could claim for himself. In contrast to the more tightly composed portrait of Vollard painted by Cézanne in 1899, the sitter here appears closer to life, his stoutness captured with bravura.