La Convalescente signed 'Rupert C W Bunny' lower left oil on canvas 63.5 x 79.7cm (25 x 31 3/8in).
PROVENANCE Private collection Australian British, New Zealand & European Historical Paintings, Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 02 November 1988, lot 1330 Private collection Thence by descent Private collection, Perth
EXHIBITED Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris (New Salon), 15 April 1910, cat. no. 200. Exhibition of Pictures by Rupert Bunny, The Athenaeum, Melbourne, 1911 cat.c12 as 'The Convalescent'
LITERATURE 'An Australian Artist who has Gained Fame Abroad: Some Examples of the Work of Rupert Bunny', Black and White, London, 15 April 1911, p.91 (illus). William Moore, 'A Painter of Beautiful Women: The Remarkable record of Rupert Bunny', Life, Sydney, 1 Melbourne 1911, p.252. (illus). Queen Bee, 'Mr. Rupert Bunny's Pictures', The Australasian, Melbourne, 20 July 1911, p.321 'Mr. Bunny's Exhibition. A Modern Art Show', Argus, Melbourne, 24 July 1911, p.7 'Mr. Bunny's Exhibition. A Modern Art Show', Argus, Melbourne, 24 July 1911, p.7 David Thomas, Rupert Bunny, General Editor John Henshaw, published by Lansdowne Press Pty. Ltd. 1970 catalogue no. O122
Of the four important paintings Rupert Bunny exhibited in the Paris New Salon of 1910 (Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts) La convalescente is unique in his oeuvre. The other three were Une nuit de canicule, Après la sieste, and Conseil d'amie. Nowadays Une nuit de canicule is well remembered as the first work to break the million-dollar barrier at an Australian art auction. The engaging Conseil d'amie (A Word of Advice) was first purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales from Bunny's first Australian solo exhibition of 1911 in Melbourne. A few months later it was exchanged with two other paintings in part payment for the larger and very beautiful A Summer Morning c.1908, which arrived late in Australia only in time to be included in his Sydney exhibition. Significantly, La Convalescente attracted favourable attention even before the artist had arrived in Australia on his triumphal return in May of 1911. The previous month the London illustrated weekly Black and White selected five paintings to illustrate a feature article on Bunny. La convalescente was one of them. 'The examples reproduced on this page [the writer observed], notably the central one, "Apres le Bain" ("After the Bath"), are among the most striking canvases that he has conceived, and are excellent examples of a style which is at once novel and intelligible, unconventional and yet striking the intimate note of modernity.'1
Hailed in the Sydney Morning Herald as 'perhaps the most eminent painter that Australia has yet produced.'2 Not only were his exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney great successes, he also completed a number of important portrait commissions. The two major works exhibited in Melbourne and priced at 500 guineas each, were After the 'Siesta', and Endormies, the latter being quickly purchased by the Felton Bequest for the National Gallery of Victoria. Sales exceeded £2000. The popular exhibition was very favourably reviewed by the critics, and La convalescente, one among many artistic highlights, received a number of mentions. The art critic for The Argus praised Bunny for his use of light and shade, and 'atmospheric envelopment of nature'. Of La convalescente he wrote, 'Mr. Bunny, too, can tell a significant colour-anecdote when he pleases, such as the soberly considered "Convalescent," quite an excursion in storytelling genre.'3 The exhibition, he concluded, 'is the most interesting one-man show held in Melbourne for a long time...'. Moreover, The Australasian, listed The Convalescent among five paintings considered 'very attractive, [which] found many admirers.'4 Later, in September, the future noted Australian art historian William Moore not only acknowledged Bunny as 'an artist with an international reputation', but also included an illustration of La Convalescente in his article.5 The Melbourne exhibition 'was [he said] the best one-man show of figure paintings that has been held in Australia.'6
However, La Convalescente, relates more to Une nuit de canicule c.1910 (destroyed) and Resting c.1910 (whereabouts unknown). The pose of Jeanne in these two paintings, lying back on the piled cushions of a day bed, has an affinity with the convalescing figure. There is also a distant connection with Bunny's Symbolist works of the 1890s, linked through those numerous paintings of Jeanne Bunny resting or sleeping, such as in Siesta c.1906-7, formerly in a French private collection, and Sunday Afternoon c.1908, private collection, New South Wales. The English artist J.W. Waterhouse summed up the Symbolist interest in sleep and death in his 1874 painting Sleep and His Half-Brother Death, 1874, private collection. Red poppies are prominent in Bunny's major Symbolist painting, Pastoral c.1893 in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Their sleep inducing properties make them significant symbols of sleep, being attributes of Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep and of Morpheus, the god of dreams and night personified. In La Convalescente, Pastoral's transient twilight is transformed into the everyday. Sleep has become the drowsiness of convalescence, red roses, as symbols of love, replacing poppies. Although the resting woman looks directly at the viewer with a nuance of appeal in her face, La Convalescente is devoid of that sentimentality which paralysed so many paintings of sickness of the Victorian era. Yet, objectivity in presentation gives way to the sensuous play of light on garments combined with subtle colouring and lyrical elegance. La Convalescente and other subject pictures included in Bunny's Melbourne and Sydney exhibitions of 1911 show why it was said at the time, 'Paris has acclaimed Mr. Bunny as one of the greatest figure artists of the day...'.7 He was also a brilliant painter of the beauty of light and its various revelations.
1 Black and White, op. cit, London, 15 April 1911, pp.90-91 2 'Art in Paris. Mr. Bunny and the Post-Impressionists', Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 1911, p.9 3 'Mr. Bunny's Exhibition. A Modern Art Show', Argus, Melbourne, 24 July 1911, p.7 4 Queen Bee, 'Mr. Rupert Bunny's Pictures', The Australasian, Melbourne, 20 July 1911, p.321 5 Life, op. cit, Melbourne, 1 September 1911, p.252 6 Ibid, p.250 7 Black and White, op. cit