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Pierre Bonnard

Self-portrait (c. 1889), tempera on canvas, private collection

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.[1]

Bonnard has been described as "the most thoroughly idiosyncratic of all the great twentieth- century painters", and the unusual vantage points of his compositions rely less on traditional modes of pictorial structure than voluptuous color, poetic allusions and visual wit.[2] Identified as a late practitioner of Impressionism in the early 20th century, Bonnard has since been recognized for his unique use of color and his complex imagery.[3] "It’s not just the colors that radiate in a Bonnard", writes Roberta Smith, "there’s also the heat of mixed emotions, rubbed into smoothness, shrouded in chromatic veils and intensified by unexpected spatial conundrums and by elusive, uneasy figures."[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Process 3
  • Later years and death 4
  • Posthumous recognition 5
  • Gallery 6
  • References and sources 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Bonnard was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine on 3 October 1867. He led a happy and carefree youth as the son of a prominent official of the French Ministry of War. At the insistence of his father, Bonnard studied law, graduating and briefly practicing as a barrister. However, he had also attended art classes on the side, and soon decided to become an artist.


Illustration for a poem by Paul Verlaine, 1900

In 1891 he met Toulouse-Lautrec and began showing his work at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In the same year Bonnard also began an association with La Revue Blanche, for which he and Édouard Vuillard designed frontispieces.[5] His first show was at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1896.

In his 20s Bonnard was a part of Les Nabis, a group of young artists committed to creating work of symbolic and spiritual nature. Other Nabis include Vuillard and Maurice Denis. In addition to his paintings, he also became known for his posters and book illustrations, as well as for his prints and theater set designs.[4] He left Paris in 1910 for the south of France.

Bonnard was described, by his own friend and historians, as a man of "quiet temperament" and one who was unobtrusively independent. His life was relatively free from "the tensions and reversals of untoward circumstance". It has been suggested that: "Like Daumier, whose life knew little serenity, Bonnard produced a work during his sixty years' activity that follows an even line of development."[6]


Bonnard is known for his intense use of color, especially via areas built with small brush marks and close values. His often complex compositions—typically of sunlit interiors of rooms and gardens populated with friends and family members—are both narrative and autobiographical. His wife Marthe was an ever-present subject over the course of several decades. She is seen seated at the kitchen table, with the remnants of a meal; or nude, as in a series of paintings where she reclines in the bathtub. He also painted several self-portraits, landscapes, street scenes, and many still lifes, which usually depicted flowers and fruit.

Bonnard did not paint from life but rather drew his subject—sometimes photographing it as well—and made notes on the colors. He then painted the canvas in his studio from his notes.[7] "I have all my subjects to hand", he said, "I go back and look at them. I take notes. Then I go home. And before I start painting I reflect, I dream."[8]

He worked on numerous canvases simultaneously, which he tacked onto the walls of his small studio. In this way he could more freely determine the shape of a painting; "It would bother me if my canvases were stretched onto a frame. I never know in advance what dimensions I am going to choose."[3]

Later years and death

In 1938 there was a major exhibition of his work along with Vuillard's at the Christian Zervos assessed the artist in terms of his relationship to Impressionism, and found him wanting. "In Bonnard's work,' he wrote, "Impressionism becomes insipid and falls into decline."[9] In response Henri Matisse wrote "Yes! I maintain that Bonnard is a great artist for our time and, naturally, for posterity."[10]

Posthumous recognition

Two major exhibitions of Bonnard's work took place in 1998: February through May at the Tate Gallery in London, and from June through October at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

In 2009 the exhibition "Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors" was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[2] Reviewing the exhibition for the magazine The New Republic, Jed Perl wrote:

"Bonnard is the most thoroughly idiosyncratic of all the great twentieth-century painters. What sustains him is not traditional ideas of pictorial structure and order, but rather some unique combination of visual taste, psychological insight, and poetic feeling. He also has a quality that might be characterized as perceptual wit—an instinct for what will work in a painting. Almost invariably he recognizes the precise point where his voluptuousness may be getting out of hand, where he needs to introduce an ironic note. Bonnard's wit has everything to do with the eccentric nature of his compositions. He finds it funny to sneak a figure into a corner, or have a cat staring out at the viewer. His metaphoric caprices have a comic edge, as when he turns a figure into a pattern in the wallpaper. And when he imagines a basket of fruit as a heap of emeralds and rubies and diamonds, he does so with the panache of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat."[2]

Bonnard' s record price in a public sale was for Terrasse à Vernon, sold by Christie's in 2011 for €8,485,287 (£7,014,200).[11]

In 2014 the painting La femme aux Deux Fauteuils (Woman with Two Armchairs), with an estimated value of around €600,000 (£497,000), which had been stolen in London in 1970, was discovered in Italy. The painting, together with a work by Paul Gauguin known as Fruit on a Table with a Small Dog had been bought by a Fiat employee in 1975, at a railway lost-property sale, for 45,000 lira (about £32).[12]


References and sources

  1. ^ Phillips Collection
  2. ^ a b c Perl, Jed (2009-04-01). "Complicated Bliss". New Republic. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  3. ^ a b Amory, 4
  4. ^ a b Smith
  5. ^ Brodskaya, 42
  6. ^ Stanton L. Catlin, "Pierre Bonnard's Dining Room in the Country," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 44, No. 6, November, 1955, pp 43-49
  7. ^ Cowling and Mundy, 1990, p. 38.
  8. ^ Whitfield, 9
  9. ^ Brodskaya, 14
  10. ^ Brodskaya, 16
  11. ^ "Un tableau de Gauguin retiré des enchères à Londres" (in Français). Retrieved 2015-03-29. 
  12. ^ Lizzy Davies in Rome. "Stolen paintings hung on Italian factory worker's wall for almost 40 years | Art and design". Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  • Amory, Dita, ed. (2009). Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-14889-3
  • Brodskaya, Nathalia (2011). . Parkstone International. ISBN 1780420943Bonnard
  • Cowling, Elizabeth; Mundy, Jennifer (1990). On Classic Ground: Picasso, Léger, de Chirico and the New Classicism 1910-1930. London: Tate Gallery. ISBN 1-85437-043-X
  • Frèches-Thory, Claire, & Perucchi-Petry, Ursula, ed.: Die Nabis: Propheten der Moderne, Kunsthaus Zürich & Grand Palais, Paris & Prestel, Munich 1993 ISBN 3-7913-1969-8
  • Hyman, Timothy (1998). Bonnard. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-20310-1
  • Ives, Colta Feller; Giambruni, Helen Emery; Newman, Sasha M (1989). "Pierre Bonnard: the Graphic Art". New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.  
  • Smith, Roberta. , January 29, 2009The New York TimesBonnard Late in Life, Searching for the Light,
  • Turner, Elizabeth Hutton (2002). Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late. London: Phillip Wilson. ISBN 978-0-85667-556-0
  • Whitfield, Sarah; Elderfield, John (1998). Bonnard. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-4021-3

External links

  • A tribute to Pierre Bonnard
  • Pierre Bonnard at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Biography and some pictures
  • Guggenheim museum
  • "Complicated Bliss" by Jed Perl, The New Republic, 1 April 2009
  • Works by Pierre Bonnard (public domain in Canada)
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