Pierre Bonnard, ‘Marine Saint-Tropez ( Les arbres et la mer)’, 1911, Richard Green Gallery

Pierre Bonnard first visited Saint-Tropez in 1909. Enraptured by the light of the Midi, he returned to the South of France for almost every subsequent year. In 1926 he bought Le Bosquet, a villa at Le Cannet, above Cannes, where he lived permanently from 1939.

This painting was made in 1911, a year in which Bonnard made three spring and autumn trips to Saint-Tropez in the company of his friends Paul Signac and Henri Manguin. It captures the pulsating Mediterranean light which had so caught his imagination on his visit in 1909. That year he wrote to his mother that he had had ‘the revelation of a Thousand and One Nights’, noting ‘the sea, the yellow walls, the reflections as full of colour as the light’. In Marine Saint-Tropez, the sunlit Mediterranean shimmers between bands of green, deep emerald for the foreground vegetation, misty blue-green for the hills beyond the bay. The foreground maquis, with its patches of deep shadow and sandy hillside, makes an intricate, swirling pattern that floats on the picture surface as well as defining the landscape beyond. As Nicholas Watkins comments, Bonnard was concerned to ‘integrate form and structure with an overall atmosphere of light’; he also saw a painting as ‘a decorative object in its own right’. Bonnard described painting as ‘a sequence of marks which join together and end up forming the object, the fragment over which the eye wanders without a hitch.

Bonnard was also a poet of colour: the blues and blue-greens of the landscape are made all the more vibrant by the presence of the rust-red sails of the yacht in the middle distance. The extraordinary inventiveness of the composition is emphasized by the narrow band of leaves from an unseen tree which hovers at the top of the painting, just above the distant line of hills, a device which plays with our sense of depth and recession, challenging the viewer to see this work both as a naturalistic landscape and as an exuberant set of marks upon canvas.

Unlike the Impressionists, Bonnard did not paint his landscapes in front of the motif. He preferred to make small drawings and colour notes on the spot, which he translated into oil paintings in his studio. His landscapes are imbued with memory and emotion as well as the transient appearance of nature. He expressed his philosophy to Matisse in 1940: ‘During my morning walks I amuse myself by defining different conceptions of landscape – landscape as “space”, intimate landscape, decorative landscape, etc. But as for vision, I see things differently every day, the sky, objects, everything changes continually, you can drown in it. But that’s what brings life’. Bonnard associated the golden light around Saint-Tropez and the Mediterranean maquis with a classical, Arcadian world; Marine Saint-Tropez breathes this glorious serenity.

This painting was acquired from Bonnard by his customary dealers, Bernheim-Jeune, and shown in their exhibition of his Oeuvres récentes in 1912. Later it was in the collections of Marcel Kapferer and Gaston Lévy, two of the most influential collectors of Post-Impressionist works in the first half of the twentieth century. Marcel Kapferer (1872-1966), the President of the Shell oil company in France, was a patron of Vuillard and owned works by van Gogh, Cézanne, Maillol and Matisse, among many others. In 1912 Vuillard made the celebrated double portrait (private collection) of Marcel and his elder brother Henry, an explorer and aviator who founded the Compagnie Générale Transaérienne, which would become Air France.

Marine Saint-Tropez was acquired in the late 1920s by Gaston Lévy, founder of the Monoprix chain of department stores, patron of Signac and an avid collector of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern works, including Modigliani’s Tête, 1910-12. At Lévy’s sale in 1932 Marine Saint-Tropez was acquired by a French private collector and has descended in his family

1 Quoted in Nicholas Watkins, Bonnard, London 1994, p.119.
2 Watkins, op. cit., p.134.
3 Quoted in ibid., p.134.
4 Quoted in Canberra, National Gallery of Australia/Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery, Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature, 2003, exh. cat. ed. Jörg Zutter, p.61.
5 Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, Vuillard The Inexhaustible Glance: Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, vol. II, pp.1142-3, no.IX-205, illus. in colour.

Frame size: 31 x 37 in / 78.7 x 94 cm

Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Bonnard, Oeuvres récentes, 1912, no.26

Gustave Coquiot, Bonnard, Paris 1922, p.44
Jean and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, vol. II, 1906-1919, Paris 1992, p.229, no.652, illus.

Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, acquired from the artist in 1911;
Gaston Bernheim Collection;
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, acquired from the above in 1925
Marcel Kapferer, Paris;
sale, Alphonse Bellier, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17th March 1928, lot 12
Gaston Lévy, Paris;
his sale, Alphonse Bellier, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17th November 17 1932, lot 59, illus.;
where acquired by a private collector, France;
by descent

About Pierre Bonnard

Known for painting light-soaked interiors, nudes and still lives, Pierre Bonnard’s lush canvases echo Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. Bonnard played a central role in Nabis, a group emphasizing the basic aesthetic properties of painting. Describing his method, Bonnard has said, “the principal subject is the surface, which has its color, its laws over and above those of object.” Rather than simply observe and reproduce the world around him, Bonnard sought to instill each picture with, in the words of Nabis colleague Maurice Denis, “a beauty outside nature.”

French, 1867-1947, Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, based in Paris, France