Bonnard was not a revolutionary artist but he synthesized several
different styles to create works of striking painter lines and memorably
glorious color. Pierre Bonnard borrowed a lightness from the
Impressionists, a bold palette from the
Fauves, a compressed dimensionality from
Matisse and added an immense intensity of his own. Pierre Bonnard's
artwork combines the poignancy of Degas with the lyricism and luminosity
of Rothko. Pierre Bonnard was a French painter, lithographer, and
illustrator. Pierre Bonnard is credited with being a founding member of
Les Nabis. Pierre Bonnard was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses.
He led a happy and careless 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 practicing as a barrister briefly. While still studying law, which Pierre Bonnard gave up in 1885, Pierre Bonnard enrolled at the 'Académie Julian' in Paris, a liberal Parisian art school, where he made friends with Paul Sérusier, Mauris Denis, Henri Ibels, and Paul Ranson. Pierre Bonnard soon decided to become an artist. The five friends formed a society known as Nabiim or the Nabis after the Hebrew for 'prophets'. Together they studied works by van Gogh, Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet, but they were most impressed by Gauguin.
The Nabis developed a style characterized by flat areas of boldly juxtaposed but muted colors and heavily outlined surface patterns. They were unified by the decorative character of their work and their dislike of impressionism . In 1891 Pierre Bonnard said that "painting must be above all decorative. Talent shows itself in the way in which the lines are distributed." Pierre Bonnard was known for his ability to convey a sense of charm. He based his work on what he saw around him, depicting the banal, everyday sights and occurrences of Paris-children at play, a few animals, or perhaps a brief meeting at an intersection.
In 1891 Pierre Bonnard met Toulouse-Lautrec and began showing his work at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. Pierre Bonnard had five paintings represented there. His first show was at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1896. He began attending to printed graphics and designed the poster 'France-Champagne'. In 1893, Bonnard met Maria Boursin on a street in Paris. She was 26 years old and had changed her name to Marthe de Méligny. According to Whitfield, "She had so effectively erased her past that not even Bonnard learnt her real name until their marriage in 1925, nearly thirty years after they began living together." Pierre Bonnard kept their marriage a secret from his family. Bonnard is known for his intense use of color, especially via areas built with small brush marks and close values. Pierre Bonnard's often complex compositions, typically of sunlit interiors of rooms and gardens populated with friends and family members, are both narrative and autobiographical.
Pierre Bonnard's 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, and many still life's which usually depict flowers and fruit.
Pierre 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. Around the turn of the century Pierre Bonnard began to move away from the elements of Art Nouveau and Symbolism, his earlier unobtrusive color gave way to a bright, colorful palette and his street scenes were gradually replaced by pastoral, idyllic scenes, nudes and interiors. In 1900 Pierre Bonnard first exhibited together with 'Nabis' in the Bernheim-Jeune gallery. Over the subsequent years,
Bonnard traveled to England, Belgium, Holland, Spain and Italy, mostly accompanied by his friend Vuillard, with whom he also went to Hamburg in 1913 at Alfred Lichtwark's invitation. During the 1920s artist Pierre Bonnard developed his mature artistic style, whose unusual complicated compositions and delicate and ingenious color schemes go far beyond the label 'Post-Impressionism'. Bonnard's life then entered calmer waters: In 1925 painter Pierre Bonnard got married and one year later moved to the southern French town of Le Cannet for good.
Large exhibitions followed at the 'Kunsthaus' in Zurich in 1932 and the Wildenstein gallery in New York in 1934. "Large Yellow Nude"(shown above) is one of Pierre Bonnard's most famous paintings. The catalogue essay entry for this painting compares the nude in the painting to the Medici Venus in the Uffizi in Florence, which is interesting, but certainly that sculpture had nothing to do with the red and white sheet in the foreground, a pyrotechnical tour de force. Bonnard often painted female nudes, usually his wife, Marthe, but this is perhaps the most elegant and alluring even if the modeling of the left arm is a bit awkward.
This is a great composition and an even more dazzling painting, one that calls to mind the Rokeby Venus by Velasquez and the Odalisques of Ingres for feminine beauty, but which literally outshines them. Bonnard's life was dedicated to painting and was accompanied by numerous honors and awards. In 1938 there was a major exhibition of his work along with Vuillard's at the Art Institute of Chicago. Pierre Bonnard finished his last painting, "The Almond Tree in Flower", a week before his death in his cottage on La Route de Serra Capeou near Le Cannet, on the French Riviera, in 1947. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City organized a posthumous retrospective of Pierre Bonnard's work in 1948, although originally it was meant to be a celebration of the artist's eightieth birthday.