Capturing Life: Pierre Bonnard and the Place Clichy

Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947)

La Place Clichy, vers 1900

On sale on November 29, 2023


“They [his early works] are often painted on cardboard or wood. They already show the workmanship of a powerful personality. The lines are sharp, and Bonnard was, at the time, a “mischievous” painter. His street scenes bear the hallmark of a joie de vivre humor: horses, dogs, shop assistants, greengrocers, a whole host of laughing youth swarming through the Batignolles district and all the way to Place Clichy, all painted with a slightly mocking kindness. The first artistic emotions of a young painter who wanted to express the gaiety of this 1900 Paris, animated, lively, good-natured. In contrast to Toulouse-Lautrec, everything in this youthful work is gentle, unequivocally tender, and life appears good to live.”

J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard, catalog raisonné de l’Œuvre peint, 1888-1905
Vol. I, Editions Bernheim-Jeune, Paris: 1974, pp. 36-37




PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)
Oil on cardboard laid on cradled panel; signed lower right
52,5 X 67 CM • 20 3/4 X 26 3/8 IN.

300  000/500 000 €


Vente, Paris, Palais Galliéra, 10 juin 1963, lot 12
Paul Pétridès, Paris

J. et H. Dauberville, Bonnard, catalogue raisonné de l’Œuvre peint, 1940-47
et Supplément 1887-1939, Vol. IV, Editons Bernheim-Jeune, Paris : 1974,
décrit et reproduit en noir et blanc sous le n°01809, p. 191




La Place Clichy demonstrates Pierre Bonnard’s talent for capturing urban life in a poetic way, using vibrant colors and meticulous attention to detail to evoke the very essence of Parisian life during the Belle Époque. Painted around 1900, this is one of Bonnard’s earliest works representing a series of Parisian cityscapes near his apartment at the foot of Montmartre, 65 rue de Douai. The scene takes place in a bustling Paris square, Place Clichy, where the hustle of the city intermingles with an atmosphere of serenity. Unlike Camille Pissarro, who painted from a window overlooking the street, Pierre Bonnard positioned himself as an active participant in the thrum of Parisian life. So he chose a new vantage point: the street. A great early-morning walker, Bonnard criss-crossed the streets of Paris, but it was probably from the terrace of a café that the painter created this motif. There are several known paintings of the famous Parisian square as seen from the historic brasserie Le Wepler, including La Place Clichy (1912), now in the Besançon museum.

Writing about Bonnard at the 1948 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, John Rewald had this to say about the artist: “Bonnard set out to capture in his work what no other painter of his time had observed: the small incidents of Parisian life. He took to the streets and squares, observing people, horses, dogs and trees with equal interest. The wide avenues, hawkers and sidewalk cafés offered him their intricate patterns, their noisy bustle.” 1

The main theme of this painting is the human spectacle. In the foreground, slightly huddled passers-by, seeking to protect themselves from the cold, move with apparent slowness towards the viewer, while others sink into the hustle and bustle of the square or into the adjacent streets. The different planes of space are indicated by the approach or distance of the passers-by, whose colored silhouettes can only be seen in the background. The painting also reveals Bonnard’s fascination with everyday life and his meticulous observation of the city. He uses delicate shades of yellow, orange and green to capture the natural light, giving the scene a sunny quality that contrasts with the wintry outfts of the passers-by. Using subtle touches to depict the architectural details of buildings, store fronts and billboards, he creates a truly immersive atmosphere in the Place de Clichy of the time.

This urban scene dates from an important period in Bonnard’s career, marked by a creative tension at the intersection between his growing interest in Impressionism and his achievements within the Nabis movement. Impressionism influenced Bonnard’s depiction of light and color, which led him to be considered one of the greatest colorists of the twentieth century, alongside his friend Henri Matisse. Like the Impressionists, he sought to capture the effects of natural light in his paintings. While his works feature vivid colors and rapid brushstrokes that give an impression of spontaneity and movement, characteristic of the movement, Bonnard did not wish to remain in the shadow of those he admired. His approach was more advanced, and as the master himself described it: “When my friends and I decided to pick up the research of the Impressionists and try to take it further, we wanted to outshine them in their naturalistic impressions of color. Art is not Nature. We were stricter in composition. There was also much more to be gained from colour as a means of expression.”2 The Nabis artists, of whom Bonnard was one of the leaders, are known for their distortion of form and— above all—their emphasis on color.

Bonnard developed his own style, combining aspects of Impressionism and the Nabis movement in bright, colorful paintings with abstract and symbolic elements. The evolution of his style over time, while retaining this artistic fusion, makes Pierre Bonnard one of the most important artists of the transition period between the 19th and 20th centuries, of which this painting is an exemplary illustration.


1 Pierre Bonnard, cat.exp. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948, pp. 25-26
2 Nicholas Watkins. Bonnard (trad. de l’anglais), Phaidon Press, Londres : 1994, p. 61




“No one notes more finely the aspect of the street, the passing silhouettes, the colorful blob seen through the fine Parisian mist.”

Gustave Geoffroy, in Pierre Bonnard, Le Journal, 8 janvier 1896, p. 1






Wednesday, November 29, 2023 at 6pm
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