Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Born on this day. Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

Pierre Bonnard (French: 3 October 1867 — 23 January 1947) was a French painter and printmaker, as well as a founding member of the Post-Impressionist group of avant-garde painters Les Nabis. Bonnard preferred to work from memory, using drawings as a reference, and his paintings are often characterized by a dreamlike quality. The intimate domestic scenes, for which he is perhaps best known, often include his wife Marthe de Meligny.

His artistic legacy calls to mind the many dazzling bathing paintings of Marthe, his wife and muse of nearly fifty years, modeling in the bathtub, toweling her ever-youthful figure, or gazing at her nude likeness at her toilette.

These shimmering visions of still waters, iridescent tiles, and private escapes have been in the public eye for many decades. The social and cultural milieu of Bonnard takes us back to another era, that of the later years of the nineteenth century, when a group of young artists commingled in Paris as friends and fellow painters. Emulating the expressive color and bold pattern used by
Paul Gauguin, their aim was to explore a form of decorative painting. Calledthe Nabis (Hebrew for “prophets”), their imprint on French art was brief but indelible.

"We are looking into a sort of sea cave, shining with internal color. Its walls are covered with a wobbly grid of large tiles: yellow, viridian, mauve-flecked with rose madder. The floor is all sea-green and turquoise speckles, but it's hard to say exactly what color any patch of the gelatinous mosaic is because each is so modified by contrasting touches within its small boundaries. The biggest shape in this aquarium light rises diagonally across the picture: a bath, like an immense open oyster, in which floats the body of a woman, all legs, shining indistinctly in the water. She seems in a trance--her face can't be read as a face but more as a spongy clump of jeweled paint. She is as indifferent as coral, not posing but tenderly spied on."

"Bonnard's critics--including Picasso, who dismissed his art as "a potpourri of indecision"--have often made the mistake of treating Bonnard as a mere hedonist, with his beautiful color and apparent lack of conceptual underpinning. In this they have been wrong. There was nothing stupid or foolishly pleasurable about Bonnard's work. But Whitfield is right to see Bonnard as an elegiac artist: "He is not a painter of pleasure. He is a painter of the effervescence of pleasure and the disappearance of pleasure." (Robert Hughes)



A documentary produced to coincide with the 1998 exhibition of Pierre Bonnard's work at the Tate Gallery in London (12th February - 17th May) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (24th June - 29th September).



Carla Ives said...

Bonnard was totally unknown to me, but I like his work. I disagree with Picasso in his assessment that his is "a potpourri of indecision." I think his use of color is brilliant and it look pretty decisive to me.

Karen A. said...

Bonnard's use of patterns reminds me a bit of Edouard Vuillard, one of my favorites.