The Mirror in the Green Room (La Glace de la Chambre Verte)

Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867-1947)

Currently on View in H206
Image Licensing

  • Above the washstand in this intimate scene is a mirror reflecting the image of a woman bathing and a seated figure. Bonnard relished compositions like this one, based on unusual vantage points and spatial relationships.
  • Bonnard was a member of a group of innovative Parisian artists who called themselves the Nabis, from the Hebrew word for prophet. They favored images with a strong sense of mood and decorative patterns.
  • Bonnard’s fondness for glowing color appears in the dappled golden light filtering through the curtains on the right.
A Recurring Theme?

“The mirror is prominent among the recurrent motifs of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century graphic art. In domestic studies by Bonnard or Vuillard, for instance, it is part of the idiom of genre painting, like the depiction of a musical instrument in the seventeenth-century Dutch style. The perspective of social history suggests that this practice is an index of the fashion for mirrors in nineteenth-century interior decoration. There it is a locus of the ascendant bourgeoisie’s satisfaction at its own self-image, as much as of its ability to buy expensive Venetian glass.”—p. 362

Stoljar, Margaret. “Mirror and Self in Symbolist and Post-Symbolist Poetry.” The Modern Language Review 85, no. 2 (April 1990): 362-372.

Bonnard and the Classical Nude

“The cast of Venus in [Walter] Sickert’s The Painter in his Studio is intriguing. Bonnard kept a postcard of the same Venus, a variant of the Knidian Venus, on his ‘ancestor wall’ of his studio at Le Cannet. During the period when Sickert was closest to him, Bonnard was actively sourcing Antique Venuses for pictures of the female nude. This interest in the Antique can be connected to the ‘Return to Classicism’ movement, which gained a widespread following in France. Bonnard’s fellow Nabis Maurice Denis was a spearhead of the movement. Many artists, including Denis, introduced classical themes and subjects in their art. Bonnard looked to Antique sculpture, sourcing different Venuses for a group of paintings of the female nude. A mirrored dressing table became a tool in a meditative exercise on the painting of the female nude. In Bonnard’s The Mirror in the Green Room a reflection of a clothed figure and a ‘real’ nude becomes a sculpted fragment in the mirror. The reflected nude has more than passing resemblance to the Medici Venus in the Uffizi.”—p. 169

An Unusual Feature?

“…A somewhat unusual feature of this painting is the inclusion of the mirror. A detail of this kind already occurred quite often in the work of the Old Masters, most frequently as an element in vanitas compositions which through the idiom of juxtaposed objects spoke of the transitory nature of life and of human vanity. Sometimes a mirror was depicted in combination with a statuette of a half-naked woman which symbolized Art. However, this kind of object symbolism had lost its original meaning as early as the eighteenth century. In their still lifes Bonnard’s immediate predecessors, the Impressionists, hardly ever used a mirror as a compositional element…”—p. 62

Kostenevitch, Albert. Bonnard and the Nabis from the Collections of Russian Museums. Bournemouth, England: Parkstone/Aurora Publishers, 1996.

Purchased from the artist in November 1908 by (Bernheim-Jeune & Cie, Paris, France);{1} purchased by Count Harry Kessler [1868-1937], Berlin and Weimar, Germany in January 1909.{2} Dr. George Viau [1855-1939]. (Theodore Schempp, New York, New York) by 1938; sold to the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in November 1938.{3}

{1} Letter from J. and H. Dauberville of Bernheim-Jeune & Cie, Paris, France, dated 28 September 1965, stating that the painting was B-J no. 16.919, purchased from the artist on 22 November 1908. They also note that the date appearing below the artist`s signature `Janvier 1909` must have been added quite a while later (IMA Historical File).
{2} Ibid. The painting can be seen hanging on the salon wall in a photograph of Kessler's Weimar home, see Sabine Walter, `Die Sammlung Harry Graf Kessler in Weimar und Berlin,` in Andrea Pophauken and Felix Billeter, Die Moderne und ihre Sammler: Französische Kunst in Deutschem Privatbesitz vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik, Berlin 2001, p. 73. Due to financial insolvency, Kessler's distinguished collection began to be dispersed in the late 1920s, see Beatrice von Bismarck, `Harry Graf Kessler und die französische Kunst um die Jahrhundertwende,` Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft, vol. 42, no. 3
(1988), p. 62.
{3} IMA Temporary Receipt No. 3775.

Object Information

Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867-1947)
creation date
oil on paper
19-3/4 x 25-3/4 in. (sheet)
26-7/8 x 33-1/8 x 1-9/16 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed in light blue oil paint upper left: BONNARD
Inscribed date in olive-green oil paint upper left and thought to be added some time after the painting was executed in 1908: Janvier | 1909
accession number
credit line
James E. Roberts Fund
© Pierre Bonnard/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
European Painting and Sculpture 1800-1945

You May Also Like