Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
In the spring of 1914 the Herbert Kullmann Collection was offered for sale at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. This collection comprised works by Turner, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Matisse among others. It also featured the present work, The Barn, by Bonnard. On this occasion Fénéon wrote: "Comprising only thirteen pieces, but all of the rarest quality and, almost all of capital importance." Apollinaire noted: "There are in total thirteen canvases there, but thirteen canvases that represent the learning of an entire era and all the schools of that same era. And each of these paintings has been selected from the best work by the best artist of each school." Both critics mentioned the present painting.
Contemporary to Bonnard's great decorative panels, The Barn reveals a different side to the artist, more realist in nature, more spontaneous and direct. Here he sets aside the techniques employed in his more stylised, poetic compositions and take on the simplicity of some of the 17th-century Dutch Masters. The stable with the cow, the donkey and the hen is the naturalist reversal of his more ambitious compositions, such as The Pastoral Symphony of 1916-1920, in which a woman milking a cow appears in the foreground. One might suggest that the Barn could include a veiled allusion to the birth of Christ. Two paintings by Gauguin of 1896 set a precedent here: The Nativity (Bé Bé), St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum, and The Nativity (Te tamari no atua) Munich, Neue Pinakothek. Both include the motif of cows in a barn taken from Octave Tassaert's Inside a Barn, and link it with the iconography of the Birth of Christ.
The scene is captured with an ease of execution reminiscent of Delacroix. The mound of hay has that brilliant orchestration of colours found in Bonnard's finest landscapes, as well as in the pattern of a bedspread, the brocade of the curtains, the Misia tapestries, and a dress held by Marthe.