Who Killed Marthe Bonnard: Madness, Morbidity and Pierre Bonnard's 'The Bath'

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There is an ongoing revaluation of Pierre Bonnard, beginning with a retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1984 and witnessed most recently in ‘Pierre Bonnard; Painting Arcadia’ at the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco 2016. The resulting body of literature, from reviews to catalogue essays, operates to subsume Bonnard within the modernist canon. However, the gender ambiguities in Bonnard’s practice problematize these attempts to read his paintings using modernist tropes. In particular, his depiction of his wife Marthe Bonnard in the bathtub does not fit easily within the genre of ‘the bather’. Across the literature there has been the occultation of a specific woman (Marthe), replacing her with the Ophelia stereotype through an extension of Toril Moi’s ‘death dealing’ binarism. As a consequence of reiterated speculation regarding Marthe’s mental health she continues to be characterized as the neurotic woman disintegrating in the bath/sarcophagus. This article argues that the literature creates a deathly and deadly porous woman. Reviewing the weight of gendered metaphoric language the article will offer a reading of the bath series and Bonnard’s late interiors based on the recognition of his difference – a difference that ruptures genre.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-283
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Contemporary Painting
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018
EventPeripheral Vision- Responding to the Work of Pierre Bonnard - The Metropolitan Arts Centre, The Works conference room, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Duration: 26 Jun 201826 Jun 2018


  • Marthe BonnardPierre Bonnard painting modernism bath domestic Ophelia

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