Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) was in the generation that came after the Impressionists. As a member of the Nabis, a group that formed under Gauguin’s influence, he produced many paintings characterized by detailed yet extravagant arabesques and decorative motifs. The Nabis were also stimulated by the Exhibition of Japanese prints held in 1890 at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Bonnard actively incorporated the aesthetics of ukiyo-e into his paintings, for which he was dubbed “ the very japonard Nabi ” by critic Félix Fénéon. At the same time he was also painting many intimate scenes in interior settings, in response to the contemporary Symbolist theater movement.
Twilight: The Croquet Game 1892 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay
Lunch by the Lamp 1898 Oil on cardboard mounted on wood Musée d'Orsay
La Revue Blanche 1894 Color lothograph Suntory Poster Collection, deposited at the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art
France-Champagne 1891 Color lithograph Kawasaki City Museum
Bonnard, having purchased a Kodak pocket camera, began taking photographs in the early 1890s. At his family home in Le Grand-Lemps, he photographed his nephews playing in the water and other scenes of his family members enjoying their leisure time. In the house in Montval, in the suburbs of Paris, that he shared with his lover, Marthe, he produced many beautiful photographs of her, nude, in the garden. In these photographs, the blurred images with compositions lacking a central focus created vivid effects with great immediacy.
Pierre Bonnard smoking a pipe in the garden at Le Grand-Lemps
c.1906 Modern print Musée d'Orsay
Marthe standing in sunlight 1900-01 Modern print Musée d'Orsay
Bonnard’s many paintings of nudes occupy the most important position in his oeuvre. Amid multilayered interior scenes woven of wallpaper, tiles, curtains, rugs, mirrors, accessories, and other domestic items, he revealed the vulnerable forms of the women he depicted. Many women, including Marthe, his lifelong partner; Lucienne, wife of his family’s doctor; and Renée Monchaty, Marthe’s friend and Bonnard’s lover; served as his models. The faces of the women Bonnard painted are unclear; in many of his works it is not possible to specify who the model was while the characteristics of several different women can be recognized.
Nude Crouched in a Tub 1918 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay
The Dressing Room, or Pink Dressing Room 1914-21 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay
The theme of intimacy fascinated Bonnard from the 1890s, when he was one of the Nabis, until the end of his life. His interiors, at first glance quite ordinary, are filled with a sense of intimacy and a somewhat mysterious ambience resulting from the artificial lighting and Bonnard’s distinctive framing of subject. In them, his flaming colors transform familiar motifs into the unknown. Bonnard, who observed the delicate changes occurring in the everyday world, captured them on canvas, “suspending time.”
The Loge 1908 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay
The Dining Room at Le Cannet 1932 Oil on canvas Musée Bonnard, Le Cannet, deposited by the Musée d'Orsay
Bonnard was fascinated by the natural beauty of Normandy, where vast landscapes open out amid gentle light. In 1912, he purchased a small house on a slope above the Seine in a town called Vernon near Giverny, where Monet lived. Living in that house, with its panoramic view of the sky and water from its terrace, aroused his desire to create. The garden was thriving with wild plants; he depicted their overlapping presence as exquisite gradations. In Arcachon and Trouville, which he visited repeatedly, he created seascapes in which the richly expressive skies dominate the space.
On the Boat 1907 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay
Trouville, the Exit of the Port 1936-45 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay, deposited at the Centre Georges-Pompidou, musée national d'Art moderne
Almond Tree in Bloom 1946-47 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay, deposited at the Centre Georges-Pompidou, musée national d'Art moderne
Water Games, or The Voyage 1906-10 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay