Lady Sewing c.1906 signed 'Rupert C W Bunny' lower left oil on canvas 59.0 x 72.5cm (23 1/4 x 28 9/16in).
PROVENANCE Private collection Thence by descent Private collection, Perth
EXHIBITED Probably Vingt-Quatrieme Exposition, Salon de la Société Internationale de Peinture et Sculpture, Galeries Georges Petit, Paris 6 December 1906, catalogue untraced
Following his marriage in 1902 to the beautiful French woman, Jeanne Heloise Morel, Rupert Bunny turned to painting personal moments of feminine leisure set in domestic interiors. The subject was very popular at the time; and Bunny had the perfect model in his wife to give his paintings all the elegance and charm that typified the Belle Époque and its celebration of all things feminine. Although he did not forsake the big subject picture, women again played the predominant role in these large canvases, as in Bathers c.1906 in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery. This period in Bunny's art is populated with great paintings. Après le bain c.1904, was the first work by Bunny to be acquired by the French Government and is now in the collection of the Musée de Orsay, Paris. Endormies c.1904 was presented to the National Gallery of Victoria by the Felton Bequest in 1911; and Summer Time c.1907 (his largest painting) and A Summer Morning c.1908 are both in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The sparkling beach scene, Le bel apres midi, Royan, c.1908 has long remained in a prominent Victorian private collection. Summer balcony scenes and evenings listening to distant music followed, culminating in Une nuit de canicule c.1910, shown in the 1910 Paris Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
The first decade of the twentieth saw Bunny reach new heights in his art, adding delightful outdoor scenes of relaxed moments in the Luxembourg Gardens, and a series of portraits of Dame Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger, Aida Crossley. Those of his wife are among his very best. Jeanne, his favourite model, reigns supreme in his paintings of this era, both in the grand paintings mentioned, and in the numerous, more domestically sized paintings like Lady Sewing c. 1906. Jeanne is seen asleep, reading, waiting by the window, or with a basket full of flowers as in Returning from the Garden c.1906, in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. As if in confirmation of his achievement, in 1906 the French State bought its second Bunny painting, Rayon de soleil an outstanding achievement for the time unrivalled by any other Australian artist. Now in the collection of the Musée d'art et d'histoire de Lisieux, Calvados, Rayon de soleil was shown in the Vingt-Quatrieme Exposition, Salon de la Société Internationale de Peinture et sculpture, which opened in Paris on 6 December 1906. Another version of Rayon de soleil was illustrated in L'art et les artistes, with the comment - '...Bunny triomphe avec ses effets de soleil sur chairs et des robes de femmes...'. 1 Returning from the Garden was also in the exhibition. Given the similarity of style, dress, and subject, it is most likely that Lady Sewing was likewise among those several intimacies Bunny exhibited in the same Salon. These paintings are particularly notable for the vivacious handling of paint and light. In each of these interiors Bunny explores the sensuous play of light on the loose, white gowns, in moments of casual leisure. In addition to her flouncy gowns, Mrs Bunny's hair in each is similarly styled and dressed with a pale blue ribbon. The profiled view in Lady Sewing shows her attractive retroussé nose, one of several features that so appealed to Bunny. The patterned and piled cushions are a further characteristic touch, recalled in The Cosy Corner c.1903 in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery, and later scenes on the shaded balcony at Royan. Of his art, in 1911 Bunny said, 'The aim of the artist should be the transmission of an emotion. He should paint only what appeals personally to himself. I do not believe in selecting extraordinary or unusual subjects. It is the quiet, everyday things that appeal to most people.'2 Bunny was right in his judgement. Today they are considered by many to be among his very best works. When Bunny held a large solo exhibition at Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, in 1917, the noted French art critic Gustave Geffroy wrote in the catalogue introduction of 'all that poetry of everyday things found in daily life.'3 He continued 'In these decors of everyday existence seen in all their simplicity and fullness of meaning with their exact qualities of light and shade the artist shows us charming creatures, real women who look, reflect, breathe and who live. They are at home, they are in harmony with the flowers and the foliage of the gardens, with the furniture and the hangings of the rooms.'4 His reference to 'the luminous joy of daylight' in Bunny's art expresses so well the appeal of Lady Sewing and companion paintings.5 In all their elegance, refinement of colour and gentle harmonies, they evoke a mood of quiet pleasure and delight in the joy of living.
1 'Les Mois Artistique', L'art et les artistes, Paris, 2. vol. IV, October 1906-March 1907, p.380 2 'The Art of Rupert Bunny', Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September 1911, p.7 3 Gustave Geffroy, 'Rupert Bunny' [catalogue introduction, Exposition Rupert C. W. Bunny, Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, p.6. Translated from the French 4 Ibid, pp.6-7 5 Ibid, p.10