Good prices for Pierre Bonnard at Fontainebleau sale



Pierre Bonnard’s intimate and shimmering world is currently being honored in France. A retrospective recently opened at the Musée d’Orsay (Pierre Bonnard. Peindre l’Arcadie, until July 15, 2015) and a sale entirely dedicated to the artist has just generated good results in Fontainebleau.

The sale, on March 29, 2015 in Fontainebleau, focused on a collection belonging to the art historian Antoine Terrasse. The latter was Bonnard’s great-nephew who dedicated a first research monograph to Pierre BONNARD in 1964. He later became one of the leading specialists in Post-Impressionism and the Nabi movement in which Bonnard was an initiator. Terrasse, who died in December 2013, spent much of his life Fontainebleau and was even deputy Mayor of the town.

The collection could easily have been sold in London or New York where it would no doubt have elicited strong bidding. However, the auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat managed to make the Fontainebleau sale a success. The approximately 100 works generated a total of $5.4 million and attracted American collectors. Indeed, American collectors and institutions have developed a strong liking for the work of Pierre Bonnard and almost half of his total auction market is hammered in New York. One of the most expensive works in the sale was acquired by an American buyer for €780,000 ($950,000 excluding fees) at three times the high estimate. The work in question is a small (21 x 18 cm) Self-portrait from 1899, the first Bonnard painted, aged 22. Another canvas also got close to a million dollars when La Promenade fetched €790,000 from a foreign buyer, against an estimate of €250,000 – €300,000. La Promenade is a superb work of modest dimensions (37.5 x 31 cm) depicting a sunlit scene that was typical for Bonnard in the first decade of the 20th century. In addition, Petite fille au chat (1899), an oil-on-cardboard representing Renée Terrasse, the daughter of Bonnard’s sister who married the composer Claude Terrasse, fetched €420,000 ($457,000).

What made this sale exceptional in the history of the Bonnard’s market was not so much the high prices it generated (Bonnard has generated no less than 73 results above the million-dollar threshold, usually in London and New York), but rather the quality of this intimate collection which included sculptures, many drawings, dozens of sketchbooks and even an artist’s palette. The latter object, with dazzling colors, multiplied its estimate by 10 (estimated €3,000 – €4,000). Some drawings also fetched around 10x their estimates: a Baigneuse de dos à la mine de plomb (c. 1914) fetched the equivalent of $12,000) and a Nu à la baignoire et nu penché was acquired for more than $20,000. In general, all the drawings fetched far beyond expectations, especially the intimate bathtub scenes. However, not all the works were unaffordable and twenty sold for around $3,000.
Although Bonnard stands out as one of the most important painters of the first half of the 20th century and one of the greatest colorists of Western painting, he is significantly less expensive than the great French artists of the time such as Matisse, Braque and Picasso. A pencil-drawn nude by Henri MATISSE can be worth 5, 10 or even 20 times more than one by Bonnard … Likewise for the artists’ respective record: whereas Matisse has peaked at $41 million (Les Coucous, tapis bleu et rose), Bonnard’s top result currently stands at $10.3m, a record generated by Christie’s London in 2011 for a large format outdoor scene bathed in light and exhilarating color (120 x 105 cm) selected by Bonnard himself for the Salon d’Automne in 1923.

Pierre Bonnard was a great friend of Édouard VUILLARD, an admirer of Gauguin and of the essence-capturing spirit of Japanese prints. Indeed, Bonnard created lots of prints and even posters. His most famous print is probably La Petite Blanchisseuse (1896) in five colors (on China paper), a resolutely Modern work that captures the Nabis’ synthesis of art and every-day life. This historic print (one of which belongs to a MoMA collection) has already crossed the $100,000 threshold several times although none of his uncolored drawings or watercolors has reached that price level.