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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pierre Bonnard

Still-life with Tablecloth, 1914, Pierre Bonnard--one of his favorite subjects.
Pierre Bonnard Self-portrait, 1942
A couple years ago I wrote on a group of French artists from just over a hundred years ago who were known as the Nabis (pronounced NOB-ee) (04-30-11). One of the leaders of this group was a young French painter by the name of Pierre Bonnard. He was born in 1867 in Hauts-de-Seine, today a western suburb of Paris. His father insisted he study law as a young man, but Bonnard also studied painting on the side, and after a brief fling as a barrister, decided he wanted to be an artist. In the early 1890s Bonnard met and was influenced by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A few years later gallery owner, Paul Durand-Ruel, recognized his talent and gave him his first show.
The Nabis were a small group, Paul Ranson, Paul Serusier, Maurice Denis, Edouard Vuillard, and Bonnard. They first met at the Academie Julian in the late 1880s and bore the influence of Gauguin and Cezanne. By the late 1890s the group had begun to break up, their association having been more one of friendship and style than a single philosophy beyond what we now term, "art for art's sake," a trite phrase and concept today, but cutting edge at the time. Bonnard's own work centered upon landscapes, tables spread for meals, household genre and nudes (often combined). His landscapes were typical of the group as a whole, presaging those of the Fauves a generation later. His tables seem to have been a personal fascination, but one that was to influenced Matisse, as well.
Femme au Tub, 1914, Pierre Bonnard
Marthe au Tub, 1908.
Bonnard's nudes differ significantly from those of the other Nabis, which have a tendency toward flatness. Bonnard seems to have been influence by Renoir's sensuous figures and style. Unlike many artist during the first decades of the 20th century, who eschewed the use of photographs in their work, Bonnard seems to have welcomed them, probably wielding the camera himself. By the second decade of the century, photography had become an amateur pastime. The so-called "snapshot" was the result. Bonnard seems to have been one of the few (perhaps the only) Post-impressionist to have relied upon them as source material. The similarities in his 1914 Femme au tub (above) to the 1908 photo of his mistress, Marthe (left), are interesting, but so too are the subtle differences in the pose. The soft focus of the photo is likely the result of a cheap camera inasmuch as the background details are more sharply delineated, none of which mattered much to a painter using them only as a reference material in lieu of a sketch. Most of Bonnard's nudes are of Marthe de Meligny, his mistress for 32 years before he married her in 1925, whereupon he found out her real name was Maria Boursin.

Indolent Woman, 1899, Pierre Bonnard. Though titled somewhat moralistically,
many of Bonnard's nudes were quite erotic, especially those of his mistress
(whatever her name might have been).


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