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A Colorful Home Life
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Last night I spent an hour watching Marie Bonnard in the bath. Her husband, Pierre, was a painter during the first half of the last century and what he mostly painted, to judge by the internet collection I came across, was his wife at her ablutions.

Marie wasn't a classic beauty, judging by the pictures -- a bit too wide in the hips, legs on the short side. She had a tiny, impish face. Her husband painted her stretched out in the tub, bending over it, drying herself, getting dressed, getting undressed, looking into the bathroom mirror. He painted himself staring into the bathroom mirror too, I'll give him that. It's hard enough to look at yourself in the morning let alone paint what you see.

The Bonnards seemed to have lived a life of exceptional domesticity, by an artist's standards. Theirs was obviously not a brief affair. They didn't marry until thirty years after they'd met and then stayed married for nearly 20 years until Marie's death. Marie ages perceptibly in the paintings.

Even when he wasn't painting his wife, Pierre tended to depict other homely subjects. There are paintings looking through windows, and out back doors, and at tables set for meals.

What is striking about the works is the color. The sedate scenes are rendered in fauvistic style. They squirm and flash and flicker with wild, clashing hues.

I was reminded of my own writing. Not that my writing is on a par with Bonnard's art, and not that I write wildly or colorfully. But I've often taken my own, uneventful life for my subject and done my best to color it with humor, to discern something interesting and pull it into the light by technique.

I'm not an art critic. I tend to read paintings much too literally. For all I know Pierre Bonnard had not the slightest interest in his domestic surroundings. From an artistic standpoint, Marie might have been nothing more than a familiar object upon which Pierre could practice his theories of light and color.

It pleases me to think otherwise. There's something admirable about an artist's inspiration being his wife in the bath or otherwise. In one painting Pierre displays himself, nude, having just got off the bed. At least I hope it's him because the woman sparawled languidly on the bed is obviously Marie. She's being joined by two small cats. The tableau is touching for being so unglamorous.

Although I'm not about to let it hang out in public like that even figuratively let alone literally.

NOTE: This is part of my column for Dave Burton's excellent e-zine Pixel 2 which is now available at eFanzines. This issue features articles and letters about sf fandom, books and writing.

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