Period: Inner worlds

Study for Le Restaurant Lavigne Study for Le Restaurant Lavigne
drawn in Paris, 1926
pencil and charcoal on paper 49.4 x 32.4 cm, 38.4 x 31 cm, 50 x 32.4 cm
not signed, not dated
National Gallery of Australia
90.460, 90.461, 90.462

In the winter of 1923–24, Ford and Bowen moved into a primitive cottage, without gas or electricity, in Montparnasse. At weekends, they dined at a local restaurant, Le Nègre de Toulouse, becoming good friends with the proprietor and his wife, Monsieur and Madame Lavigne.

In Le Restaurant Lavigne, completed a few years later, Bowen relied on the compositional lessons she had learned from the early Italian Masters. She was inspired by the triptychs she had seen in Italian churches, museums and galleries. The painting’s construction was elaborate: first, she made drawings (her “dollies”, as she called them) of the restaurant staff; then she developed the composition by pasting the images on boards:

This was a perfectly formal pattern done on a gold background with M. and Mme Lavigne in the middle surrounded by appropriate decorations and the waitresses grouped at the sides like a chorus of angels.

Almost twenty years later the style of portraiture she developed here reappeared in her iconic group portrait Bomber crew.