The Green Blouse (1919) by Pierre Bonnard
Meaning and Interpretation of French Colourist Painting

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The Green Blouse
By Pierre Bonnard.
Considered to be one of the
greatest 20th century paintings.

The Green Blouse (1919)


Articles about Modern Art


Name: The Green Blouse (1919)
Artist: Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Genre painting of domestic interior
Movement/Style: Modern art (colourism)
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

For analysis of paintings
by colourist painters
like Bonnard, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of The Green Blouse by Pierre Bonnard

One of the best-known Post-Impressionist painters in France, Pierre Bonnard achieved success relatively early as a founder member, with Paul Serusier (1864-1927), of Les Nabis and afterwards, with Edouard Vuillard (1869-1940), as an exponent of Intimism, a style of Post-Impressionist painting that focused on domestic interiors. The Green Blouse dates from his Intimist period and is an excellent example of Bonnard's affinity for colour, decoration and light. (See also: The Terrace at Vernon, 1939.)

Although Bonnard painted from memory, he also used notes to recall his subjects. His observations, many of them consisting of a single word only, were sufficient to recall the light: 'it's enough to remind one of all that happened that day', Bonnard said.

The Green Blouse is a reconstruction of a remembered moment - a moment that had been perceived from the outset in pictorial terms. 'The main subject is the surface which has its colour, its laws, over and above those of the objects'.

The palm-trees visible through the window at left indicate that this is one of Bonnard's southern landscapes, and beyond the trees is the deep blue of the Mediterranean itself. The southern sky illuminates the interior of the room, in which a table-top glows with tints of crimson. Facing the viewer is the figure of Marthe, the artist's wife, who first met Bonnard in 1893. Her real name was Maria Boursin, but she preferred the more stylish 'Marthe de Merigny'. Bonnard adored her, despite her reclusive, neurotic nature which drove his friends away, and he painted her repeatedly during the half-century of their lives together. Bonnard never allowed Marthe to age in his paintings and here she scarcely looks her fifty years.

Note: The Green Blouse is an excellent example of Bonnard's contribution to the Classical Revival in modern art (c.1900-30).

In one of his sketchbook notes Bonnard expressed the idea that 'a figure should be part of the background against which it is placed', and in The green Blouse, the hair, face and neck of Marthe are painted in the same warm yellows and golds as the curtain behind her. Only her eyes provide a contrast. Painted in a strong blue, they stare fixedly forward. Marthe is alone with her thoughts. Her level gaze draws attention to the dominant verticals of the upper section of the painting.



Food - the simple food prepared and served in the home - is an important and repeated element in Bonnard's iconography. In front of Marthe is a bowl full of ripe apples. The dish of fruit looks scrumptious, the apples so red and juicy. Through many previous works, Bonnard has established that for him fruit is sensual: it is an erotic symbol. By placing the fruit directly below the woman's figure, making it almost a mirror image of her, Bonnard tells us, with typical wit and grace, how attractive she is to him.

A member of the Paris School, Bonnard made an important contribution to Post-Impressionism but remained essentially a colourist to the end of his life.

For more colourist works, see: Nasturtiums and the 'Dance' (1912) by Henri Matisse.

Articles about Modern Art

Symbolism (c.1886-1900)
Pan-European painting movement. Bonnard was a devotee.

Post-Impressionism in Germany (c.1880-1910)
Naturalism and Realism; Ferdinand Hodler, Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth.

Post-Impressionism in Holland (c.1880-1920)
Painting after the Dutch Impressionist Hague School.

Cloisonnism (Flourished 1888-1894)
Invented by Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin.

Synthetism (c.1888-1894)
Developed by Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin.


• For the meaning of other works of colourism, see: Homepage.

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