Bonnard wrote in his notebook that a painting is “the transcription of the adventures of the optic nerve”. Bonnard’s paintings are a condensation of the perceptions that occur when we see ordinary things or scenes: the edges are blurred or deformed, motifs are suddenly cut off at the edge of the picture plane, the sense of distance, of near and far, is confused. He tried to turn “brute vision”, shapes and colors as they are seen before they assume their meaning as things, into paintings.
The Dining Room at Le Cannet 1932 Oil on canvas Musée Bonnard, Le Cannet, deposited by the Musée d'Orsay © Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt / distributed by AMF
Ambroise Vollard, Père Ubu in the HospitalGeorges Crès et Cie, Paris, 1917 Private collection
The play that begins with “merdre,” the French word “merde,” meaning “shit,” with an extra r, Ubu Roi—an absurd comedy by Alfred Jarry—, was filled with bitingly obscene dialogue and caused a huge scandal at the time. Bonnard, who was inspired by this play, created witty illustrations, demonstrating also his talent as a sketcher and caricaturist.
Natural Histories Ernest Flammarion, Paris, 1904 Private collection
Bonnard, who loved animals, kept a cat and four dogs. Of the 2,300 works he produced throughout his life, about 700 include animals. As illustrations for Jules Renard’s Natural Histories, Bonnard drew various animals —a donkey, chicken, peacock, deer, rabbit—with an animated touch.
The White Cat
1894 Oil on cardboard Musée d'Orsay© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski / distributed by AMF
The Dressing Room, or Pink Dressing Room1914-21 Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski / distributed by AMF
In 1893 Bonnard met on a Paris street a young woman who called herself Marthe de Méligny. Bonnard was 26 and she told him she was 16. Marthe, with her beautiful female form and purplish-blue eyes, in time became Bonnard’s lover. As Marthe enjoyed taking several baths a day, Bonnard equipped their house with what was then a lavish bathroom. Bonnard learned Marthe’s real name and age (she was two years younger than Bonnard) only when they officially wed in 1925.
In fin de siècle Paris, the passion for Japonism swept through. Bonnard purchased ukiyo-e by Utagawa Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, and Ando Hiroshige. He liked Japanese Art to the extent of earning the name "the very japonard Nabi". He used compositions that were long vertically, in the manner of folding screens, and his planar color compositions and rendering of perspective were visibly influenced by ukiyo-e.
Women in the Garden 1890-91 Distemper on paper mounted on canvas (four decorative panels) Musée d'Orsay© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski / distributed by AMF