2nd Self-Portrait Found in Same Met Gallery!

Bonnard, After the Bath (1910) Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum, New York

After discovering a self-portrait by Picasso four days ago (see blog), I think I've discovered another one, this time by Bonnard.....hanging right opposite the other one at the Metropolitan Museum! The "coincidence" demonstrates, if nothing else, that you can walk into almost any important gallery and, using the methods revealed here, find something that has never been seen before. The towel hanging in the top right-hand corner of Bonnard's After the Bath (above), a scene depicting his nude wife stepping away from a maid who has just dried her with another towel, is clearly shaped to resemble a face.  Whether it is Bonnard's face or that of some poet or artist, perhaps, who inspired him is open for debate though, to my mind, it is very likely to be Bonnard himself. 

Detail of Bonnard's After the Bath (1910) compared to a detail of his 1908 Self-portrait.

If you compare the white face in profile looking to the left with Bonnard's face from a 1908 Self-Portrait, there is some resemblance. It is clearly bearded which makes sense. At that time Bonnard sported a short beard which he soon removed leaving us more familiar with his clean-shaven aspect than his hirsute one. Further research may turn up a contemporaneous photograph or even drawing of the artist in profile. Until then we cannot be sure. What is certain is that our museums are full of facial forms that have never been recognized for what they are because so few people know that art itself, whatever it looks like at first, depicts the artist's mind in which facial forms always predominate. This is only natural: more neurons in our visual system are devoted to the task of perceiving faces and facial expressions than for any other task.

As for the rest of the picture, the maid's hand holding the towel represents Bonnard's own holding a "gessoed" canvas while the mirror behind her, shaped vertically like the painting itself, is a "painting" inside the painting. That's why the light, appearing like "studio light" from behind us, outside the picture, reflects Madame Bonnard's back in the mirror like a dark shadow. This use of "studio" light and white fabric, along with the use of a maid and a "painting" in the center, is not unlike how Edouard Manet used them in Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863) and Olympia (1863). If you have the time, take a look. You'll see what I mean.

Reader Comments

I don’t see the dismembered hand as some maid’s “off screen”, but rather the extension of the described face.  The thumb is on top , so it’s a right hand—if it were a maid’s hand, she’d be pinned against the wall.  If the hanging towel is Bonnard, then the hand is his own right hand, wrapped around the back of the mirror, embracing his wife and her reflection in a gesture of love or protection. Bonnard had a wonderful relationship with is wife; maybe this is a love-painting. wink

29 Jan 2013

I think that’s a very good point. The dismembered hand looks as though it is on the canvas itself with no space between the towel and the wall. So you are correct. It is “Bonnard’s” hand on the surface “painting”, perhaps wiping the canvas with a cloth as painters do, but it might also be on another level, as you suggest, the end of his own arm wrapped around, so to speak, his wife or the mirror. My own feeling is though that artists very rarely express sentimental or romantic appreciation for other people in their images because they always think of the other figures as themselves or symbols of painting. Even Picasso’s use of the well-known letters MT for Marie-Thérèse refer, on the more important poetic level, to the first and last letters of Manet’s name and Picasso’s identification with the earlier French master. He noticed the coincidence and made use of it.

Many thanks. I’d be interested to know your comments on other pictures too.

30 Jan 2013

Yes, I myself see his face shape in the towel and also in the eye represented in the towel. When going down at the bottom by the point of where his beard is in the towel I would say that there are a few more small self-portrait of Bonnard. Then you start looking around his works of art and he is all over the place.

Bob Miller
26 Feb 2013

Thanks, Bob. That is correct. It never ceases to amaze me that one cannot see what one does not know.

Simon Abrahams
26 Feb 2013

Well Simon, I’ve personally known about this phenomenon by artists painting in their own self-portraits every since around 1980 after reading the book RvR 1642. This was a biography of Rembrandt van Rijn and van Loon, a doctor & writer and a long time admirer of Rembrandt and his work. The book came directly from the Diary of Dr. van Loon and re-written from the diary by a nephew about ten time removed after him finding it in an old trunk and reading it.


Bob Miller
10 Jun 2016

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