Private Lives » Music in the Home

Music in the Home

Music and musicality played a crucial role in the Nabi aesthetic from the time of the group’s inception. In the late 1800s, music and painting were often considered sister arts, both evoking emotions through harmony, rhythm, and form. Like other Symbolists, the Nabis were eager to convey inner feeling through external means. Moreover, music was part of their everyday lives: it was woven into domestic life and served as an intimate form of entertainment and education for all members of the household. Each artist in this exhibition depicted music in the home, expressing a wide variety of moods and emotions, ranging from the refined musical soirée captured by Félix Vallotton in The Symphony to Pierre Bonnard’s playful designs for a children’s music primer to Édouard Vuillard’s contemplative portrayal of Misia Natanson at the piano.


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

The Minuet of Princess Maleine (Marthe at the Piano), 1891 

Oil on canvas
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Acquired by donation in 1999 RF 1999 3 

Denis painted this portrait of his future wife, Marthe Meurier, the year after they met. Marthe was an accomplished musician, and music played an important role throughout their courtship and marriage. Here, she prepares to play “The Minuet of Princess Maleine,” a tale of doomed lovers. Denis contrasts Marthe’s placid expression and poised fingers with the turbulent music that will soon issue forth. 

[Artwork description: Oil painting of Marthe, a young light-skinned woman, sitting at a piano. Marthe has brown hair with red highlights pulled back into a bun. She has light blue eyes and pink delicate lips. She sits sideways on the piano bench and looks out to the left of the painting. She is wearing a long-sleeved rich dark blue dress with a high collar and slightly puffed sleeves. She wears a tan and green apron with red polka dots and cream lace edging over the dress along with a gold necklace. She rests her right arm and hand on the piano keys and her left fingers on the edge of the piano. A book of sheet music is on the piano with decorations that are not distinguishable. The wall behind the piano is covered in elaborate detailed wall paper that is dark with a series of branches and green, white, red, and orange polka dots. There is a red spotted carpet below the piano bench. At the bottom of the painting is a flower with five white, delicate blossoms shaped like bells. The dark tones of the wall paper, floor, and dress contrast strongly with her skin, piano keys, and sheet music.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Éva Meurier in a Green Dress, 1891

Oil on canvas
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 2002.92 

Denis echoed the pose of Marthe Meurier in The Minuet of Princess Maleine (on view nearby) for his portrait of her sister, Éva. Like Marthe, Éva was a talented pianist. Although she is not depicted with the instrument, her elegant hands may be a reference to her skill at the keyboard. 

Close observers will note that her portrait was painted over another composition, traces of which are visible around the edges of the canvas. 

[Artwork description: A woman seated in a wicker chair fills the center of the painting. She is sitting upright in left profile with her hands in her lap. Her left wrist is in her lap and the right hand is holding the left wrist. Her head is turned toward us so that we see her left ear and both of her eyes. She has a full head of black hair that curves around her forehead and ear and down onto the collar of her dress in the back. It is piled high on her head so that it almost touches the top of the painting. She has brown eyes, gently curved black eyebrows and a slightly turned up nose. Her pink lipped mouth is closed. She looks quiet and composed. She is wearing a dress with a round collar with a thin edge of lace. Only the very top of her neck and chin line show. The dress is dark green with vertical stripes of lighter shades of green, pale yellow, and pale pink. The stripes are made with short, dotted lines so that they have a soft appearance rather than distinct edges. The lines of her body are also soft and curved. The bodice of the dress curves to the waist and then curves again to her lap. Her right arm curves to her lap. Her back curves from the neck to the chair. The wicker back of the chair curves upward from the bottom of the painting until it almost touches the righthand edge of the painting before it curves around her back. The background is painted in light shades of green with dabs of pink and rust and darker shades of green. There are larger splotches of pink around her head. Three small white flowers that look like daffodils are painted near the left side of the painting at the height of her chest.]


Édouard Vuillard 

French, 1868–1940 

Misia at the Piano, 1895 or early 1896

Oil on cardboard
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 1975.1.224 

Misia Natanson was not only a talented pianist, but also a muse to many artists, including the Nabis. She was renowned for her performances in the Natanson home, where close friends, artists, and associates were captivated by her powerful style. Here, however, Misia appears to be playing only with her right hand. This is no concert, but an informal moment as she practices, with Vuillard as her sole audience. 

[Artwork description: A young woman plays a grand piano with a damask patterned wallpaper as the background. On the left side of the painting, the woman is sitting erect at the piano. She has white skin and brown hair and is wearing a red and gray pattered ruffly blouse with a grayish textured skirt. Her hands are on the piano keys and she’s looking towards the music stand in front of her. An ornate tulip lamp sits atop the piano and is centered in the painting. The lamp partially blocks the view of the music stand and the print hanging on the wallpapered wall. The black piano occupies the bottom right corner of the painting, the entire upper section is dedicated to the cream, tan, orange and green damask wallpaper heavy with brushstrokes, save for the gold-framed print where one can just make out two seated figures in the artwork.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Misia at the Piano, ca. 1900 

Oil on canvas
From the Collection of Ann and Gordon Getty 

[Artwork description: Misia, a young white woman with a round face, rosey cheeks, small pursed lips, large eyes, and blondish brown hair pulled into a bun on top of her head and teased around the edges sits at a grand piano. Her gaze is fixed on the music in front of her. She wears a light white shirt with hints of purple and teal in the brushstrokes. The back of the music is dark gray with a strip of floral-like design along the top. The piano stand is made of ornately carved wood in circular patterns with a jagged ridge on the left side. The piano top is dark brown with a small patch of yellow and white on the bottom left of the canvas. A dark brown wall extends behind Misia to the right and a painting or wall paper consisting of brown, blue, and white brushstrokes extends to the left. Most of the colors used are dark and muted, but Misia is painted in bright, light tones. The brush strokes create layers of texture and pattern. Most are short and straight, but those on her shirt are longer and more circular.]


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Symphony, from the album Germinal, 1897

Woodcut
Van Gogh Museum p2821S2017 

Misia Natanson is the elegant pianist depicted in this woodcut, and she often gave private concerts in her home. Here, the artist includes a handful of Misia’s admirers, including Vuillard at the apex of listeners at the left. 

[Artwork description: A black on cream, landscape-oriented print of a pianist Misia, at right performing for a grouping of five listeners at left. She sits behind a black grand piano that mostly obscures her. Only part of her face and one shoulder are visible in cream with her eyes and eyebrows depicted in simple black line with her black hair piled on head. Below the piano, the bottom of her cream gown is creased with line detail. Behind her to the right are a pair of cream curtains and a diamond and floral-patterned wallpaper. A tall oil lamp sits on the piano topo at far right. At far left, only the male listeners’ faces are shown in cream against a black ground. They are arranged in a pyramid shape with Vuillard at top. He has a full beard, down cast eyes, and hold his left hand up to his mouth. Below him, four more faces are shown: two in profile with mustaches and a monocle, one seen mostly from the back and the last with a heavily creased face and arms folded across the chest. To the right of the men, a large flower arrangement in a wide based vase is silhouetted on a round table in front of a paned window. Much of the print is in black with details in cream.]


Musical Instruments 

Unlike his Nabi peers who relished familial concerts and young musicians, the prickly Félix Vallotton preferred solitude or the company of adults. Musical Instruments, a series of six woodcuts completed in 1896–97, stands apart from the work of the other Nabis both in spirit and style. In each, a solitary musician is paired with his instrument in a dark interior. Although some of the sitters have been identified, the emphasis is not on the individuality of each performer, but on private reverie. Elements of humor, such as the inquisitive white cat in The Flute, and sophisticated patterning, seen in the ferns, fronds, and wicker chair in The Guitar, contribute to a visually rich experience. 


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Guitar, from Musical Instruments, 1897

Woodcut
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Portland Fine Print Fair Fund 2018.62.1 

[Artwork description: A vertical rectangular print rendered in black on cream paper showing a man playing a guitar in the shadows of a room with ferns and a large window. Most of this print is black with the details of the man, plants, a low table and the window in cream. The man sits at left with the guitar held high on his chest. His forehead, lowered eyes, hands, the face of the guitar are in cream. The rest of his figure is the black that continues to make up the surrounding room. To the right of the man there is a bank of ferns set in front of a large paned window. The windowpanes are cream with black mullions. The cream paper shows highlights of the fern fronds amid a mostly black mass of plants. Below the bank of ferns is a low table with a herringbone pattern picked out in black. The bottom quarter of the print is purely black with the exception of the black letters “FV” in a cream box at lower left and “La Guitare” at lower right, also seen with black letters on cream. The artist’s signature and date appear in the cream margin at bottom right.]


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Cello, from Musical Instruments, 1896

Woodcut
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Amanda Snyder Purchase Fund and Ann Flowerree 2020.21.1 

[Artwork description: A vertical, rectangular print rendered in black on cream paper depicting a man playing a cello in the corner of a room. Most of this print is black with the man’s face, hands, details of his coat, cello, a portion of a wall and the contents of the room in cream. The man sits at center, drawing a bow across the cello in front of a chest of drawers near a corner of the room. His hair, coat and cello are black with delicate lines in cream showing details of the cello and man. Behind him are a chest of drawers, again in black with cream lines showing the chest’s detail and handles. A small round clock sits on the chest. The corner wall behind the man is divided into a lower half in black and the upper half in cream. Much of the print is black with the black letters “FV” in a cream box at the lower left corner and “Le Violoncelle” at lower right, also in black letters on cream. The artist’s signature appears in pencil at lower right in the cream margin.]


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Flute, from Musical Instruments, 1896

Woodcut
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) p1500V2000 

The flautist’s arched eyebrow mirrors the cat’s curious gaze. The musician’s informal pose suggests that he is merely trilling a tune for his feline companion, rather than performing for an audience or practicing in earnest. 

[Artwork description: This vertical rectangular print depicts a figure playing a flute in a room with a cream cat. The flute player is centered with only their hands, face and flute and sleeve detail. The rest of the figure is in black, and it blends with the room’s black wall behind them. The player’s face is tilted downward with facial features like the arched eyebrow and nose in black. On the right a cat approaches the player with its tail straight up while standing a on a dresser, leaning towards the figure. The dresser appears ornately craved with details like drawer pulls and leg carvings highlighted in cream. A frilly lamp behind them is outlined in cream. At left an empty corner of the room is shown with the cream floor meeting a black corner. Under foot is a patterned rug. The initials “FV” in black contained in a black box are at lower left and “La Flute” is at lower right. The artist’s signature appears in pencil in the margin at lower right.]


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Violin, from Musical Instruments, 1896

Woodcut
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) p1501V2000 

[Artwork description: A portrait-oriented print depicting a violinist playing while slumped in an easy chair in front of a bright fire. The violinist sits facing the fire in a black chair, a single cream curved line delineating its curved arm. The figure’s face and hands are in cream while the body is in black silhouette. Long legs in pointed shoes stretch out before the violinist. Cream details the raised violin and bow. At center left the fireplace and fire are cream outlined in black. The floor between the fireplace and figure is cream while the wall behind is black. Vases and a figurine are displayed on the mantle. At far right an upright cabinet depicts floral details in cream against black.]


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Piano, from Musical Instruments, 1896

Woodcut
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Victor S. Riesenfeld 372.1948 

[Artwork description: This vertical rectangular black and cream print depicts a bearded figure playing a piano in a wallpapered interior. The figure is seated just left of center and plays a piano at right but only their hands, face and a bit of their collar is in cream against the mostly black print. The figure is in profile, hands on the piano keys. A candelabra sits on the left and books and papers in cream with black details are piled onto of the upright piano’s lid. The area behind depicts wallpaper with a repeating black tulip pattern on cream. A set of cabinets and shelves is at far left above a patch of cream representing sunlight through a chevron paned window. At bottom left the words “Le Piano” are in black in a cream box. At lower right is the black initials “FV” in a cream box. The artist’s signature appears in pencil in the lower margin.]


Félix Vallotton

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Cornet, from Musical Instruments, 1897

Woodcut
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Victor S. Riesenfeld 373.1948 

[Artwork description: This vertical rectangular print depicts a musician playing in a room in front of a music stand, with a candle on a table at right in front of a window. The print is mostly black with details picked out in cream. The horn player sits at center, his cream face, partially obscured by his hands and the instrument, show eyes closed and cheeks creased as if exerting great effort. He wears a black vest with a pocket watch outlined in cream and a full sleeved cream shirt that gathers at the cuff. At right is a small round cream tabletop that holds a lit candle, a glass and sheeves of cream paper. To the left of the figure is a music stand simply outlined in cream against the black background. The upper left of the print depicts a scallop shell pattered wallpaper design and a partial picture frame in cream. At right above the table is the cream outline of a window. At bottom left are the black letters “FV” in a cream box and “Le Piston” at lower right, also seen with black letters on cream. In the cream margin below is the artist’s signature and date.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

Grandfather’s Song (recto), study for Petites scènes familières, 1894/95

Black watercolor and black chalk
Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Gift of Margaret and Robert Rothschild 2015.58 

Bonnard’s tender drawing pairs Claude-Marie Terrasse, the composer’s father, with his grandchild. The artist was particularly attuned to intergenerational bonds, which he recorded with both wit and poignancy; here, he describes the contrast between youth and age in this double portrait. 

[Artwork description: Black watercolor and black chalk on cream paper. On the left, a sketch of a grandfather holding an infant. A grandfather wearing a white shirt with black buttons and a dark black suit coat holds a small infant. The grandfather has dark hair that is parted in the middle and falls to each side. It is highlighted in cream giving the illusion of light being reflected. He has an elongated face with wrinkles on his forehead and under his eyes. His nose is somewhat distorted and he has a large black beard and mustache. He cradles the infant in his large hands. The infant sits sideways, it’s ear near the grandfather’s chest. It has short, light colored hair with wisps at the back of its head, holds its left arm out as if to grasp the grandfather’s suit with its hand, and wears a light colored shirt with a ruffled collar. The background behind the grandfather is black. On the right border of the painting are multiple sketches. The first on the top appears to be the outline of a figure with a large leaf rising above its head. There are sketches of unidentifiable objects below it. At the bottom a figure of a man with hair slicked back and a large mustache. He wears a tight fitting shirt with buttons and appears to have a sash at his waist. He wears tall black boots and there are some black watercolor doodles in front of him.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

Grandfather’s Song, proof impression of Petites scènes familières, 1895

Lithograph
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1988 1988.1010 

[Artwork description: Lithograph on cream paper. A grandfather wearing a white shirt with black buttons and a dark black suit coat holds a small infant. The grandfather has dark hair that is parted in the middle and falls to each side. It is highlighted in cream giving the illusion of light being reflected. He has an elongated face with wrinkles on his forehead and under his eyes. His nose is somewhat distorted and he has a large black beard and mustache. He cradles the infant in his large hands. The infant sits sideways, it’s ear near the grandfather’s chest. It has short, light colored hair with wisps at the back of its head, holds its left arm out as if to grasp the grandfather’s suit with its hand, and wears a light colored shirt with a ruffled collar. The background behind the grandfather is black and there are small cream letters at the top of the lithograph.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Petites scènes familières, 1895
Album of piano music by Claude Terrasse with 19 

lithographs
The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Jane B. Tripp Charitable Lead Annuity Trust 2019.233 

[Artwork description: This page for an album of piano music has the title and the author’s name in bold, hand-printed letters of uneven sizes that look as though they were quickly and freely brushed on. Centered at the top of the frame is a rough sketch of a baby’s head with the features crinkled in a smile. The bottom edge of the face is left unfinished.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Petites scènes familières, 1895
Album of piano music by Claude Terrasse with 19 

lithographs
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Jean Y. Roth Memorial Fund 2016.88.1 

In 1895, Bonnard collaborated with his brother-in-law Claude Terrasse to create Petites scènes familières (Familiar Little Scenes), a collection of piano pieces by Terrasse with lithographs by Bonnard. Together, the illustrations and the music evoke the private domestic space and the intimate world of music at home that was so important to the Nabi artists. Proof impressions of the lithographs made prior to the addition of the music are also on display in this gallery. 


Petites scènes familières, 1895
Suite of 19 compositions for piano

Music by Claude Terrasse French, 1867–1923

Performed by Arseniy Gusev Russian, born 1998

In 1895, composer Claude Terrasse published a suite of piano compositions illustrated with lithographs by his brother-in-law, Pierre Bonnard, to suggest the mood for each song. Ranging from lively to melancholic, Terrasse’s pieces were intended to be played by amateur adult pianists, but the subjects of the songs were conceived to have intergenerational appeal.

Selections from Terrasse’s Petites scènes familières (Familiar Little Scenes) are performed by pianist and composer Arseniy Gusev. A native of Saint Petersburg, Russia, Gusev is studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music and actively performs in Russia, Europe, and the United States.


Petites scènes familières 

Before Pierre Bonnard’s brother-in-law, Claude Terrasse, published a suite of 19 piano pieces, he turned to the artist for illustrations, seen in proof impressions on this wall. Although this publication was a commercial venture, it was still a highly personal project: almost every musical piece is dedicated to a member of the Bonnard-Terrasse family or a close friend. 

Intended for adult pianists, the music of Petites scènes familières (Familiar Little Scenes) evoked the comforts of home and childhood. No event was too insignificant for the composer and artist: a goatherd and his flock, a dance between a teenager and a toddler, or a quiet intergenerational gathering were all worthy of memorializing in sound and ink. 


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

The Dance, proof impression of Petites scènes familières, 1895

Lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Print Acquisition Fund 2016.54.1 

Members of the extended Bonnard family are found throughout his musical illustrations. Here, his cousin Berthe Schaedlin is the model for The Dance. She is accompanied by a toddler, probably one of the Terrasse children, who peeks over Berthe’s skirts at the viewer. 

[Artwork description: Lithograph on cream paper of a young woman dancing with a toddler. The woman stands facing away from the viewer with her right knee bent, lifting her foot in the air, head turned to the right looking towards the viewer. She has long curly black hair, light-colored skin, and wears a light colored dress with dark accents that is ruffled at the knees, black nylons, and black shoes with bows on them. A small toddler stands behind her lifted knee. The child has light colored hair, light-colored skin, and is smiling. The child wears a light colored dress with dark shoes and extends its arm upward to hold the woman’s left hand. There is a wooden floor with a zigzag pattern beneath them and a dark background with a few white lines behind them. There is a small word written at the bottom and the lithograph is bordered by a thin black line. There is a red seal at the top right.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

Papa, Mama, proof impression of Petites scènes familières, 1895

Lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Bergsvik and Donald Hastler in Honor of Mary Weaver Chapin 2018.4.1 

Petites scènes familières opens with a tribute to family life: “Papa, Mama.” The music is dedicated by the composer to his wife, Andrée, Bonnard’s sister. The artist honors the couple in a tender portrait with their infant. The profile on the right edge is that of Bonnard’s mother, Élisabeth Bonnard. 

[Artwork description: Lithograph on cream paper. The lithograph is in the shape of an L laying on its side facing downward. At the bottom of the vertical portion a young infant is held close to its father’s chest with it’s mother’s hand resting on its hip. The infant appears to have its eyes closed and has a content expression. The infant wears a long-sleeve shirt with buttons and a ruffled collar and appears to be grasping the father’s shirt with both hands. The father has a long narrow face with a prominent mustache. He curly black hair and thick black eyebrows. He is wearing a light colored shirt with collar and buttons. The mother rests her head close to the father’s. She has long black hair, a rounded nose, and dark eyes. Next to the mother, the profile of the grandmother’s face is visible. She has dark hair pulled back and a gently curved nose. The lithograph is outlined in black and there is writing under the grandmother’s face.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Intervals, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93 

Pen and black ink with wash over graphite
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Purchased for the Virginia and Ira Jackson Collection, 2016 2016.88.1 

[Artwork description: This pen and ink study for a book on music theory has an illustrated border with the main part of the page left blank for text. The upper left and lower right parts of the border are a little more than twice as wide as the rest of the margin. In the left top corner is a woman with dark curly hair whose face and body are turned slightly to the left. Both arms are shown but the rest of the body is cloaked in a flowing dress that has a bodice patterned with short dashes and a skirt with long draping lines that reaches to the bottom of the frame. Her left arm is bent at the elbow and her right arm is outstretched, both holding ringing bells. Bells of different sizes continue along the top of the frame and down two-thirds of the right side. The bottom border has a flower on the left side and a family of eight figures arrayed from midpoint to the right side of the frame. A mother and father are at either ends of the family group with children of varying sizes and ages in between them. Although sparsely drawn, each figure has its own personality.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Major Scale, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93 

Pencil, ink, and watercolor
Private collection, A Texas Collector 

A family arranged by size cleverly illustrates the concept of the major scale, from the smallest child at the left to the mother at the right. She holds an infant aloft, representing the top note: a return to the first pitch, an octave higher. Although rendered in a simplified manner, each character is endowed with their own sartorial style and individual expression. 

[Artwork description: This page from a book on music theory has black line drawings printed on a light green background with a cream-colored text box and border. The text box is a large rectangle with the lower right segment cut out to show a series of figures that range from a baby to a toddler to young children on up to a woman balancing an infant in upraised arms. The figures’ facial features are fully detailed but their clothes are simply outlines, except for a young girl’s polka dotted tunic and the checkered, floor-length dress of the woman. Outlines of butterflies flutter next to the left and right sides of the text box as well as along the top, disappearing off the edge of the image. A thin black line separates the cream border from the green background of the illustration.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Octave Scale, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93 

Watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Wright Family Fund 2017.90.1 

Throughout Le Petit solfège illustré, Bonnard used relative age, height, or girth to explain musical concepts. Although this sheet was not incorporated in the final lithographic version, it employs easy-to-grasp visual concepts in which small children symbolize the tonic and mediant notes, and three ample women represent the dominant notes. 

[Artwork description: Against a warm red background, this study for a page on music theory shows rows of unclothed girls with pinkish cream-colored flesh and black hair. In the top row, the girls stand straight with feet together and arms outstretched at shoulder height, with each one’s fingers almost touching the girl on either side. A black polka dot appears between each of the girls along the very top of the page. Beneath this row of girls is a cream-colored square text box with a panhandle extending on the right side. To the left of the box are four rows of girls with three figures in each row. The figures, some of which are only partially visible, all face forward with one arm bent at the elbow and touching the waist. Again, black polka dots separate each girl. At the bottom of the page, below the text box and extending to the right edge of the box, is a row of 13 girls with the same bent elbow pose and identical black dots separating them. In the space beneath the panhandle are four narrow vertical boxes with words written in yellow letters outlined in black. Interspersed among these cream-colored text boxes is a serpentine figure of a woman in profile, a group of three fat ladies facing forward with both arms bent at their waists, a baby, and a pair of girls holding a flag with a long pole.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

Mother and Child, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93

Graphite and brush and black ink
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson—Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund 1991.699 

[Artwork description: This vertical strip of paper, comprising about a fourth of a sheet, features the design for the far-left border of the page. In the top corner is the face of a female gazing down at her child, who is shown in the bottom half of the strip. The woman’s features are drawn in along with her curling hair, but only part of her shoulder in plain clothing is shown. Resting against her clothing is the baby’s round head and a rough outline of part of his body and one leg that curves along the bottom of the page. The figures are outlined in a thick black line with light pencil strokes providing shading and some details. Cutting into the illustration on the top, bottom, and side is a thin line that separates the picture from whatever text will appear in the blank space.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Sol, La, Si, Do, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93 

Pen- and brush-applied black ink
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Leisser Art Fund 62.40 

The procession of little girls at the top of the sheet illustrates a scale. In the right margin, a ninth girl appears, hesitant to intrude on this completed scale. 

The figures at the bottom of the sheet are the artist’s doodles of his daily life, his curly-headed brother-in-law and his infant, and cats. The artist himself is depicted
at the lower left, sketchpad in hand. This free drawing suggests the full integration of family life, music, and art in Bonnard’s surroundings. 

[Artwork description: A narrow grey rectangular box fills the upper fourth of the page with a line of eight dancing girls in profile. Each one has its own personality and distinct clothing design, while holding onto the skirt of the girl in front of her. At the very far-right edge of the box a ninth girl’s head and outstretched hand are barely visible, as if she is considering whether to join the group. Below this frieze, against a cream background, are doodles of a baby’s head, three human figures, and three cats. The baby and one figure, shown seated with just the upper torso defined, are in the far-left side of the page. A black cat with tail held high comes next, followed by a detailed sketch of a man in profile with an abundance of curly hair, a mustache, and wisps of a beard. A less detailed seated figure is next. The last doodle, on the right side of the page, is of two cats interacting with each other.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

Lesson on Compound Time, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93

Pen and black ink over graphite
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Virginia and Ira Jackson Collection, 2001 2001.136.42 

Bonnard evokes the unique terror inspired by piano teachers in this preparatory drawing. In the final lithographic version, Bonnard endowed the teacher with more fearsome attributes, including a whiplike baton and three unsightly hairs springing from the teacher’s nose. 

[Artwork description: This rough sketch for a book on music theory has the silhouettes of a teacher and his young pupil occupying most of the page. On the right the teacher, shown in profile with glasses and a prominent nose and chin, leans forward in almost a menacing fashion with a claw-like hand outstretched. The child on the left side leans back, away from the teacher, with one hand upraised. Both figures are filled in with horizontal shading. Lettering at the top of the page indicates the title. Except for the figures the rest of the page is blank.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Doloroso, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93 

Pen and ink over graphite
Private collection 

Bonnard gives his singers exaggerated expressions to convey the musical notations. The man in the upper left corner—eyebrows flexed, mouth agape, and fingers clenched—comically illustrates doloroso (sorrowful), while the women at the lower edges represent gracioso (graceful, smooth). 

[Artwork description: This study for a book on music theory has a rough black line drawing of a male singer’s head, hands, and upper body in the far-left corner of the rectangular page. His exaggerated expression of flexed eyebrows and downcast eyes suggests sadness, reinforcing the drawing’s title “Doloroso” (sorrowful). Below this figure is the larger head of a female with flowing lines denoting her curling hair, prominent cheekbones, downcast eyes and a mouth that has a black circle scribbled over the closed lips. In the opposite, lower right corner is another sketch of a female whose head and upper torso are shown. Her hair is piled on top of her head and shaded in while her facial features are a little more carefully drawn. Appearing above her head is the profile of a male, with only a sliver of his face drawn in. The upper half of the page has three sections of text, written in cursive script. The space beneath the text is left blank.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947

How to Beat Time?, study for Le Petit solfège illustré, 1891/93

Pen and ink over graphite
Private collection 

The elastic motions of the conductor keep the orchestra in time in this drawing illustrating Claude Terrasse’s explanation of arm movements for different beats per measure. Bonnard packs a number of winsome details into this sketch, including the conductor’s extravagant mustache, the attentive eyes of the musicians watching the baton, and the two legs of a ballerina, adorned with pointe shoes, onstage. 

[Artwork description: This study for a page of a book on music theory is mostly made up of text with a small P-shaped illustration in the upper left corner. In the image we see the back of the conductor with his baton raised above his head. Part of his face, with a bushy mustache, is visible. He stands before three members of the orchestra, though only the male figure in front is shown playing his instrument (in this case, a clarinet). Behind the musicians is the bottom edge of a stage with two feet of a ballerina, dancing en pointe, shown in the far-left corner. Handwritten text, in cursive, covers the remainder of the rectangular page. Diagrams of arrows accompany three pieces of text along the bottom of the page.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Preliminary cover design for “Le Petit solfège illustré,” about 1892 

Lithograph
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1967 67.753.1 

Bonnard labored over the cover of Le Petit solfège illustré, making numerous designs that would communicate the style and content of the music primer while also satisfying the publisher. Although the design changed throughout the process, the artist kept the focus on the young children and the intimacy of music in the home.

[Artwork description: This tan, black, and brown study for the cover of a book on music theory has a group of figures engaged in either making music or serving as an audience. Against a tan background, the far left of the image features two large heads of children with mouths open in song. The child second in line holds an open song book, To the children’s right is a group of women peering over the shoulder of a seated male violinist whose chin rests on his instrument and whose left arm wields a bow. Behind and to the right of the violinist is a woman in a polka dotted dress seated at a grand piano. Two small figures of females appear behind her with only their heads visible. Part of the title of the book is printed in large white letters in the upper right corner. Music clefs create a pattern behind all the figures in the upper third of the frame. A cream-colored box with musical notes and bars is superimposed in the right center foreground. Below the box is additional white text that lists the book’s author and the illustrator (Bonnard).]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Study for cover of “Le Petit solfège illustré,” 1891/93 

Brush and black ink and watercolor over graphite
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Virginia and Ira Jackson Collection, 2001 2001.136.38 

[Artwork description: This rough ink and watercolor drawing for the cover of a book on music theory features five youngsters singing amidst a swirl of bars of music and a squiggly patterned background. The two main figures—young boys with flowing striped shirts whose heads and upper bodies are visible—appear prominently along the left margin of the page. A thick black line outlines the tops of their heads and continues on to encircle the heads of three smaller boys in the background. All of the children have their mouths open in song and hold songbooks. Musical bars and notes cover the remaining two-thirds of the rectangular frame. Part of the book’s title appears in the lower right corner of the page in rounded, heavily outlined letters that are filled in with a reddish wash of watercolor. There is a thin black border around the whole image.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Design for cover of “Le Petit solfège illustré,” 1891/93 

Watercolor, brush and ink, and wash
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Peter H. Deitsch Bequest 372.1971 

[Artwork description: This study for the cover of a book on music theory has a rough drawing of a young boy’s head in the upper left corner with his mouth open in song. Below him is the head of a second child, who also has his mouth open, but has dark, thick diagonal lines to indicate hair in contrast to the top figure’s freer, curving strands. To the right of the first child, occupying the top of the illustration, is the suggestion of three figures with just loosely rendered heads and torsos shown. Next to them, in the top right corner of the page, is a rectangle with horizontal lines, suggesting musical bars, and four partial musical notes in a diagonal from left to right. Below the box, occupying about a third of the middle of the page is part of the book’s title, in large, cartoonish, outlined letters. Below these letters are heavy black marks suggesting additional text.]


Le Petit solfège illustré 

In 1891, Pierre Bonnard and his brother-in-law, Claude Terrasse, began preparing a music primer for children, with text by Terrasse and images by Bonnard. The project took more than two years to complete, during which time Bonnard made dozens of preliminary studies. The resulting publication features 32 lithographs that brought Terrasse’s lessons to life with playful designs to engage young musicians. 

Throughout Le Petit solfège illustré (The Little Illustrated Music Theory), Bonnard used subjects from everyday life that would appeal to children and that repeat the signifiers of intimacy found in his paintings and prints. Children play an active role, as do families, animals, and stern adults. The artist adopted a deliberately naïve style, in sympathy with his desired audience. 


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Cover of “Concerts du petit frère et de la petite sœur,” 1903 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Print Acquisition Fund 2015.86.1a–c 

Like Bonnard, Denis created illustrations for young musicians. In 1903, he made this cover for four pieces by composer André Rossignol that were published as part of the series Concerts du petit frère et de la petite sœur (Concerts for a Young Brother and Sister). The bright colors and the lively surface of the lithograph suggest the sprightly polka played by the diminutive pianist and her accompanist on the violin. 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on tan paper. A colorful cover of sheet music collection. A young child plays the piano, reading the music by candlelight. At the end of the piano another child plays a violin. Blue letters at the top read “Concerts du petit frère et de la petite soeur”. Blue letters at the bottom left read “par André Rossicnol”. The piano is dark brown and the sheet music has red and black notes. Four canceles extend over the keys on rose and gold colored candle holders. The young pianist has wavy, chin-length blondish brown hair, light skin, is outlined in red, and is wearing a light colored long-sleeve dress with red polka dots. The child plays and looks down at their fingers. The young violinist has long wavy blondish brown hair with a red bow above the right ear. They are wearing a blue and white striped shirt with a large white color and solid blue body. They are outlined in the same red that makes up their violin. They play while looking up at the sheet music on the piano. The background consists of layers of blue and orange groups of short lines. Part of a divider or door is seen to the right, consisting of a red wooden frame with an x in the middle and sheer fabric. The floor consists of red, blue, and cream checkered tiles.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Le Petit solfège illustré, 1893

Illustrated book by Claude Terrasse with 32 color lithographs with cloth-covered board folio cover
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Print Acquisition Fund 2015.85.1a–b 

[Artwork description: This lithograph decorates the cover of a book on music theory and features the title in the lower right quadrant and drawings of family members on the left side. Inside a thin black border that encompasses the whole space, the heads of two young children appear prominently along the left edge of the cover with open mouths, curling hair, and expressive eyes. Behind and to the right of the children are three much smaller figures of females who appear to be singing. Their bodies are mere suggestions while their more fully detailed heads are just underneath the top border. They are holding musical scores. The first two words of the book title appear within the women’s clothes but the last two words are prominently shown against the brown background. The largest word in the title is solfège, which means singing exercise. All words in the title are drawn in rounded, cartoonish lettering with heavy black outlines and no interior shading. Below the title, at the bottom right of the cover, are the author and illustrator’s names. To the left of the names are floating musical notes.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

The Composer Claude Terrasse and His Two Sons, 1902 

Oil on canvas
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Donation of M. and Mme Charles Terrasse, 1978 RF 1980 2 

In 1890, Bonnard’s sister, Andrée, married composer Claude Terrasse. The brothers-in-law collaborated on two projects for the piano, Le Petit solfège illustré (The Little Illustrated Music Theory) and Petites scènes familières (Familiar Little Scenes), both on view in this gallery. 

Honoring Terrasse in this casual portrait, Bonnard references the composer’s growing renown by including details such as the piano behind him, the scores stacked under the metronome in the left corner, and the music open in his hands. He also points to the importance of family life, as two of his young sons pursue their music lessons in the background. 

[Artwork description: Portrait of composer Claude Terrasse and his two sons in front of a piano. Terrasse, a young white man, sits facing the viewer, eyes fixed forward. He has a long, thin face and nose, rosy cheeks, thick wavy gray hair, and a reddish brown mustache and beard. He is wearing a white shirt with a collar and brown suit coat. His right arm is outstretched, bent at the elbow as if leaning on furniture that is outside the frame. He holds a book in his hands. Behind him is a deep red wall with two partially visible wood framed paintings. On the left is a tall stack of sheet music with a metronome on top. Next to it is a large dark brown upright piano with sheet music open on the stand and two books sitting on the top. Terrasse’s two sons stand in front of the piano. Both are wearing light blue shirts and have thick brown hair. The taller one is facing the piano with his head turned looking towards his father. The shorter one is holding a book, has his head tipped slightly to the left, and is looking towards the stack of sheet music. The colors are somewhat flat, with brushstrokes visible in multiple directions. Most of the colors are a dark tone, but Terrasse, his sons, and the music are composed of much lighter colors and smoother brush strokes.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

The Harpists, ca. 1893

Watercolor, pencil, and gouache
Private collection 

Denis produced more than a dozen designs for wallpaper. Although none were commercially produced, this study highlights his long-standing interest in creating immersive interior environments. Music, which was integral to Denis’s homelife, here surrounds the viewer in the form of a woman playing the harp. The sinuous lines of the composition suggest music floating throughout the interior. 

[Artwork description: This wallpaper design has a background of green with swirls of curved lines in a lighter yellow-green. The design repeats two different patterns of women playing the harp. The larger pattern shows two women sitting next to each other with their harps in front of them. The woman on the left has her left hand on a large square representing sheet music that appears to be stuck to the wall next to the harp. The square of paper is the same light yellow-green of the curved lines. The woman to the right is slightly higher and a little smaller. One cannot see her left hand. It is behind the edge of the first harp. Both women are sitting with their backs to us and facing slightly to their left so that you can see their barely outlined profile. Their right hands are touching the strings of the harp. The harps are black with light yellow strings. The women’s dresses are black with long curved skirts with gray lines for detail. The women’s faces and hands are the same color as the paper and the curved lines. Their hair is black and is pulled up into a bun. The smaller design shows only the upper body of two women looking at a square of sheet music. The woman closer to the music is slightly above, slightly larger and to the left of the second woman. Like the first pattern, the dresses are black, the face is in profile, and the hair is black and pulled up in a bun. The pattern repeats as follows: 12:00 Women with harp. 2:00 Women looking at music. 4:00 Women with Harp 6:00 Only the heads of women looking at music. The heads are just below the long skirt of the women at 4:00. 9:00 Only the heads of women looking at music. This pattern is just below the long skirt of the women with harps at 12:00. This is not a big enough piece of the wallpaper to see the complete pattern.]

Private Lives » Music in the Home