Slide Show

43. RUPERT BUNNY

43. RUPERT BUNNY A Cup of Chocolate (also known as At the Table (Mrs Bunny)) 1911 image

43. RUPERT BUNNY

12Apr 2017

In Rupert Bunny’s paintings there are no gum trees, no sheep, no pioneers and no nationalistic drum-beating. On the contrary, Bunny’s paintings betray a ‘feminine’ world of repose, relaxed comfort, beauty and unhurried ease. These qualities were recognised in his first exhibition in Sydney upon his return to Australia in 1911 – the year of this painting. The art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald offered the following:

He is romanticist of the commonplace; in whose hands an otherwise banal subject is transformed with beauty. Above all, he is a painter of women, and equally in his figures as in his faces, they express a repose-fullness, an absence of passion, a peaceful remoteness from the ‘sturm und drang’ of modern life, which while sometimes producing the feeling of a certain want of character, never degenerates into mere insipidity … tonality is worked out with remarkable delicacy, the leading colour being stated,  repeated, and caught up to form the key of the whole picture, like the recurrence of a leit-motif in music.1

It is more than likely that Bunny’s painting of his wife Jeanne Bunny (née Morel) entitled A Cup of Chocolate, was never exhibited or sold in his lifetime. Given this, and the fact that she predeceased him by fourteen years, may indicate that this painting was a personal favourite and that he kept it in remembrance – after all, his wife’s wedding ring is made quite clear; probably the only time that this is done. 

The painting shows Bunny’s wife in a reflective pose looking dreamily out into the distance holding a green glazed ceramic cup with her right hand, while her left hand cups her cheek. The tones of the paint are warm and the colours soft. Such is its delicate ambience that the scene presents itself as though glanced at while passing an open door. The delicate lavender red tones of the roses in the vase in front of her are incorporated in the scumbled lavender and grey tones of the sitter’s ruffled dress and the surface of the starched tablecloth. As noted by the Sydney Morning Herald critic above, the leading colour is suffused through Bunny’s painting and picked up here and there to emphasize harmony. The face of the artist’s wife seems to shine out from the swirls of paint. The face is clear, bright and more naturalistic than anything else in the painting and there is no doubt that it is intended to be the focus of the work. The background of this painting is dark, as are many others, and it makes the foreground colours seem to shine and glow – an attribute Bunny learnt from a close study of the works of Édouard Manet (1832-1883). Bunny’s lush painting bears justifiable comparison with one of the best that he completed: the sumptuous masterpiece entitled Portrait of the Artist’s Wife of 1902 in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Rupert Bunny’s painting A Cup of Chocolate of 1911 speaks of a perfumed life and shows Rupert Bunny at his best. For this, and much more, he deserves the last word:

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

 

Footnotes

1. Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September, 1911, p.7. Cited in: Thomas, D., Rupert Bunny

    Australian Art Library, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1970, p.66

2. Ibid.

 

Associate Professor Ken Wach
Dip. Art; T.T.T.C.; Fellowship RMIT; MA; PhD
Former Principal Research Fellow and Head of the School of Creative Arts,
The University of Melbourne