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The Blush of the World: Bonnard's Nudes and the Disembodied Look

Date: Wednesday 31 July 2013bonnard lecture
Time: 6:00pm
Venue: Old Arts, Theatre A, The University of Melbourne

Presenter: Professor Peter de Bolla
Enquiries: Stephanie Trigg

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Pierre Bonnard, The Red Checkered Tablecloth or the Dog’s Lunch, 1910, oil on canvas.

This lecture sets out to provide a framework within which one might begin to look at Bonnard’s canvasses depicting his wife, Marthe, in the rituals of washing and bathing.  It suggests that the most common way of understanding Bonnard’s depiction of his wife’s face – in ‘contre jour’ or shadow – fails to attend to something more obviously somatic: the blush.  I argue that Bonnard was deeply immersed in a looking technique that was implicated in the world.  In effect the sighted viewer is placed in a reciprocal optical relationship with the object seen.  When one begins to look with Bonnard the world feels the presence and pressure of our looking and Bonnard’s depictions ask us to acknowledge that.

This lecture is part of a longer project on Bonnard and in the time for discussion and conversation I hope to introduce some of its other themes and interests.  In particular I hope to be able to show some of what I call ‘Bonnard’s ghosts’, the effects of pentimenti in his painting practice which I think comprise one of the most profound acts of looking and painting in the history of Western art.

Peter de Bolla is Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics at the University of Cambridge where he took both his BA and doctorate.  He taught for five years in the English Department at the University of Geneva before returning to Cambridge in 1986.  He is the author of six monographs including The Discourse of the Sublime: Readings in History, Aesthetics and the Subject (Basil Blackwell, 1989), The Education of the Eye: Painting, Landscape, and Architecture in Eighteenth-Century England (Stanford University Press, 2003), Art Matters (Harvard University Press, 2001) and the forthcoming The Architecture of Concepts: the Historical Formation of Human Rights (Fordham University Press, 2013), and has co-edited two collections of essays Land, Nation and Culture, 1740-1780 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Aesthetics and the Work of Art (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).  He is an occasional contributor to radio and the London Review of Books.