MoMA Audio: Collection, 2008
Director, Glenn Lowry: Pierre Bonnard typically painted on large unstretched canvases because he felt stretchers were too limiting.
Curator Emeritus, John Elderfield: Because Bonnard worked with the pictures unstretched on the wall, the final completing act of the picture was actually establishing its precise dimensions. And this has caused some confusion later on. At one point in its history, somebody who obviously wasn't aware of Bonnard's working methods, looked at the picture with the frame taken off and found that some of the painted area extended around the sides, particularly down the left hand side and thought, "Oh, somebody must have made a mistake in stretching it originally." So a new stretcher was made, which was bigger to allow more of this to be visible.
We know that this was indeed a mistake. Bonnard had decided precisely which part he wanted visible when he finished the picture. Needless to say, when this was discovered, we had the frame constructed in such a way as to put back into hiding the part on the left.
And it's interesting because on the left is the figure standing with a cup in her hand. Many people don't see the figure at first. The eye has difficulty distinguishing colors of a similar tonality or value. We know that Bonnard's wife Marthe was very reclusive and didn't like to meet visitors. This painting represents not their home, but a house which they went to so that Marthe could attend a sanitarium. And it's almost as if he paints her reclusiveness by keeping her off to the side of the picture. He liked this idea of hiding things in pictures.