Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bonnard, Pierre

The Terrace at Vernonnet
oil on canvas
148 x 194.9 cm (58 1/4 x 76 3/4 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

Bonnard developed a passion for the countryside and the seasons. The daily intimacies of family life add warmth to his art, but there is nothing casual in his presentation. He believed that in landscape the human figure "should be part of the background against which it is placed," and he deliberately controlled the viewer's eye. He knew exactly what he wanted us to see, but he didn't want everything in the picture to be evident at first glance.

"It is still color, it is not yet light." (Bonnard)

Pierre Bonnard (1867 - 1947) was a French painter, and a founding member of Les Nabis, a group of young artists committed to creating work of symbolic and spiritual nature. 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, he studied law, graduating and practicing as a barrister briefly. However, he had also attended art classes on the side, and soon decided to become an artist. His wife Marthe is an ever-present subject and is seen seated at the kitchen table or nude as in a series of these paintings.

He, sometimes called an intimist, is known for his intense use of color. He was not a plein air painter like Monet or Cezanne, any more than Picasso was. He 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. He made copious drawings and notes that served as designs for more than one painting. Working on unstretched canvas, he developed a complex process of manipulating paint, rather in the way that contemporary painters do in seeking out color and textural possibilities. The format and content of the painting could then be altered by cropping the canvas.

Still, his often complex compositions, typically of sunlit interiors of rooms and gardens populated with friends and family members, are both narrative and autobiographical. The process of making a painting would extend over months, even years. He was deeply conscious of the complexities of visual perception: He carefully plotted his paintings, so that what is seen in them depends upon the active participation of the viewer, as happens when we perceive scenes in the world.

Picasso was very critical of Bonnard : "That’s not painting," Picasso said. "Painting can’t be done that way. Painting isn’t a question of sensibility; it’s a matter of seizing the power, taking over from nature, not expecting her to supply you with information and good advice."  Matisse was supportive, however, remarking : "Yes! I certify that Pierre Bonnard is a great painter, for today and for the future."  "Painting has to get back to its original goal, examining the inner lives of human beings." (Bonnard)