Pierre Bonnard
Exhibition from 31st May to 9th October, 2000
Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol
59-61, rue de Grenelle, Paris 7th
Phone 01 42 22 59 58 Metro: Rue du Bac
Open 11:00 to 18:00
Thursdays until 21:00
Closed Tuesdays
Price: 40 Francs (6.09 Euros). Free for up to 16 year-olds

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Pierre Bonnard


Pierre Bonnard's paintings were on view until 9th October 2000 in the
Dina Vierny-Maillol Museum

One of the pillars of 20th century art, Bonnard became a member of the Nabis group — 'the prophets' of modern art — which was founded by Paul Sérusier with Maurice Denis, Emile Bernard, Edouard Vuillard, Paul Ranson and later Aristide Maillol as members.With his Nabis friends of the Jullian Academy, Bonnard discovered the art of Paul Gauguin and embarked on a tortuous path of experimentation that he transformed masterfully to shape not only a style of his own, but also to pave a way for modern and contemporary artists, be they Expressionists or abstract painters.

The exhibition in Paris took you through the transformation of the man and his work. The painting style undergoes a real metamorphosis, becoming subjective and personal with time. From his early period, where he shares with Corot a love for natural harmony in precious gray tones—a sort of a 'petite musique' of his own (see Chateau de Virieux)—he moves to adopting Gauguin's luminous backgrounds. Yet he transforms Gauguin's hedonic vision into a world that is made of bright colors, yes, but contrasting mercilessly with the suffering of the human figure, which is invariably painted in dark masses of burnt sienna, sometimes almost disintegrating or melting into the background, and only occasionally catching the light of the surrounding life.

It is fascinating to see him influenced by so many painters of his time, and each time emerging with his own interpretation of this experimentation. From the open windows 'à la Matisse' of his "Fenêtre ouverte, mur jaune" (1919), where the picturesque window is still an ode to the distant beauty, he moves to the Cafétière of 1937, where the ordinary coffee pot becomes the protagonist of the picture, taking far more importance than the city portrayed through the open window — a hallucinating statement of the banal everyday objects and the crude truth of everyday life winning over the romantic ideal of distant landscapes. The same interpretation occurs in his experiments with Japanese prints that at first influence his technique; he first uses flat and pure colors in the background, then moves on to express volume through complementary colors (see La Corbeille d'Oranges of 1940). The 'cropping' of his pictures also starts with a Monet-like photographic crop that later is transformed by him to express the invasion of the ugly and ordinary in the idyllic and picturesque (see 'En bateau-Promenades en Mer' of 1924, that reminds one of Visconti's "Death in Venice").

The best understanding of the man and his personal path comes when comparing his 1904 juvenile self-portrait and the self-portrait of 1938. The jewel-like treatment of color and form and the conventional 'cropping' in his early style give way to color used as a means of expressing his inner torment, in which the human form is a mass of dark and suffering matter with a broken contour, almost disintegrating under the violence of his emotions. This last self-portrait is so tragically moving, it is almost as though he were trying to talk to you with his rounded mouth.

Bonnard took painting a step further from the Post-Impressionists, the Nabis and all those who influenced him. He gave us a clue when he wrote "I hope my painting will hold without becoming lined with age. I'd like to reach the youth of the year 2000 on the wings of a butterfly." This shows a conscious determination to use art as a powerful means of communication; he communicated both the joy and pain of living — the truth about life that is neither as black as Munch's expression of it, nor as joyful as the Impressionists' view of it. Life is an intensely colorful place in which humans live, sometimes with immense joy and sometimes suffering great pain, and it is this contrast that Bonnard tried to communicate.

The Dina Vierny-Maillol Museum's permanent collection is also very interesting to discover. Apart from a large collection of sculptures, drawings and paintings by Aristide Maillol, you can see sublime drawings by Picasso, Cezanne, Valadon, Degas, Matisse, Ingres, Kandinsky, Odilon Redon and Marcel Duchamp.

Art Lovers' Paris
June/July 2000