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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


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