Skip to main content

Eva Bonnier, Swedish Gem

Eva Bonnier Självporträtt 1886
Self-portrait, 1886

Eva Fredrika Bonnier
was a Swedish painter born in Stockholm on the 17th of November, 1857. Trained mostly in Paris, Bonnier is known mostly for her portraiture of women and innate ability to capture mood and vulnerability. She was a good friend of artist Hanna Hirsch. Despite having been born into a wealthy publishing family, Bonnier suffered from depression throughout her life and after having ceased to paint in 1900, took her own life nine years later by jumping out the window of Hotel Cosmopolite in Copenhagen at the age of 51.

In her Self-Portrait above, we see a rather confident woman of 29 years old. I love the raw sienna background and the way her face and the white tones of the loose ruff around her neck. There is an unflinching honesty to her gaze that is hypnotic, even for a self-portrait. What personal demons she had are clearly not evident here at all.

Convalescent, 1890

Incredible brushwork in the pillow this young woman lays on. Look at those greens and blues melded into the shadows. The tenderness Bonnier evokes in painting this woman is so vulnerable yet full of presence. Her skin has a warm glow despite whatever illness she may have, and Bonnier contrasts this with the gray-white blues around her. Look at the brushstrokes on her gown, which contrast in direction with the pillow. Bonnier really creates a sense of not only mood but texture that is so gentle and sensitive to her subject, something rarely seen in this type of painting. Truly inspiring.

Magdalena, ca.1890

Presumably a portrait of a friend, once again Bonnier elicits a quiet presence with soft sunlight streaming into the room from above. It amazes me how the simplicity of the portrait works to strengthen it. The sitter is looking calmly at us, not posed but sitting comfortably with photographs strewn along the sofa. Bonnier seems to have an affinity for hats as seen both in her self-portrait and here, and in many of her numerous portraits. Despite Magdalena being completely covered in her long black dress and boots, it is the vulnerability in her face that draws us in. A striking portrait.

Vid ateljédörren 1885
At the studio door, 1885

Contemplative and still, Bonnier breathes life into this full-length work with an open door to nature. Look closely at the soft shadows on the ground outside and the way light dapples beneath the flowers. This young woman may have been a model taking a break from posing inside her studio. Lost in thought looking down away from us...Bonnier shows us that portraits should not be stiff or posed, but real people thinking and being themselves.

The Housekeeper, Brita Maria (Mussa) Banck (Eva Bonnier) - Nationalmuseum - 40071
The Housekeeper, Brita Maria (Mussa) Banck, 1890

Incredibly astute portrait. Here the housekeeper is clearly not that thrilled about having her likeness painted, and (like Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez) it only serves the make the portrait stronger. Bonnier captures that face with determined observation...even the neat brushstrokes of her hair reveal her orderly manner. Note the colorful hat. Look at the silvery greys in what looks like newspapers. Bonnier contrasts this with a jet black uniform devoid of any detail or highlights, then has her against a sofa with red pinstripes and a floral-patterned wallpaper. The placement of the hands is also ingenious, implying a hardworking, no-nonsense hand on the table and the other on her lap suggests a personality that is both practical and home-loving. Great portrait.

Bonnier is a rare treat that is unfortunately overshadowed by others in her native Sweden like Zorn, yet her work stands up to any painter in terms of technique and presence. It is unfortunate that she could took her own life, had she controlled her depression I suspect more of her gifts would have changed her reputation as the asute and thoughtful painter she truly was.

Eva Bonnier, ca.1905


Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body. Robert Henri Charles Louis Müller , A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864 Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful. Anton Raphael Mengs , Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755 One of several Academic nu


Nymphs and Satyr, 1873 If there is one artist today that hardly needs an introduction, it would be William-Adolphe Bouguereau , supreme giant of 19th century Academic art. Born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle on the southwest of France, his talent would define the era he lived in only to fall into obscurity for decades after his death in 1905 until as recent as the early 1980's, shockingly. Today he has the distinction of being lionized by the Art Renewal Center as one of the greatest artists of all time while at the other end of the spectrum vilified by modernists as artificially perfect and sentimental. In fact it is quite rare to see such polarization over an artist of a calibre like Bouguereau, whose bravura is difficult to equal yet at the same time thematically his work admittedly tends toward women and children, a subject matter that sold well and he had endless patience for. Over the vast array of his oeuvre, some 820 paintings, I have tried to find some of his v

The Genius of Ramon Casas

Open Air Interior, 1892 Born on January 4, 1866 in Barcelona, Ramon Casas i Carbó was a Spanish portrait painter and graphic designer. He was a contemporary of Santiago Rusiñol , both founders of the Spanish art movement modernisme . Where Santiago painted pensive interiors and moody landscapes, Casas focused more on the portrait and figure with a penchant for costume and posture. His palette often consists of more muted tones with vibrant color accents. Casas enjoyed a lengthy and prominent career throughout Europe and South America where he often exhibited in shows with his friend Rusiñol. In Open Air Interior above, Casas encapsulates a quiet moment outdoors during tea time. I love these kind of paintings for their calm visual intensity. The way that man sits in his chair, lost in thought while his wife carefully stirs her tea...this is the kind of mindfulness in the subjects that makes us, the viewer, envision ourselves in this scene. Casas paints the far wall of the house