Pierre Bonnard

Eyridiki Sellou | Sep 18, 2023

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Pierre Bonnard, born October 3, 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses (Seine) and died January 23, 1947 in Le Cannet (Alpes-Maritimes), is a French painter, decorator, illustrator, lithographer, engraver and sculptor.

Coming from the petty bourgeoisie, with a spirit both modest and independent, he began drawing and painting at an early age. He participated in the founding of the post-impressionist group of Nabis, who intended to exalt colors in simplified forms. However, Bonnard revered the Impressionists and went his own way, away from the avant-gardes that followed: Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism. He produced a great deal of work and was successful from the turn of the century. A great traveler and nature lover, he willingly retired to his house in Normandy, but also discovered the light of the South of France: keeping one foot in Paris, he settled in 1927 in Le Cannet, with Marthe, his companion and model for nearly fifty years.

Very active in the graphic and decorative arts, tempted for a time by sculpture, Pierre Bonnard is above all a painter. An observer gifted with a great visual and sensitive memory, he worked exclusively in the studio, favoring the classical genres of figurative painting: landscape, marine, still life, portrait and female nude, which he also combined in his interior scenes. His subjects taken from everyday life and his way of treating them have earned him the labels of "painter of happiness", "bourgeois intimist" or "last of the impressionists". So the question was asked at his death: was he a great artist, or at least a modern painter?

Studies and retrospectives reveal a work that is more complex and innovative than it appears: the pre-eminence of sensation over the model, the affirmation of the canvas as a surface through composition, the incomparable mastery of light and color - his increasingly rich and vivid palette made him one of the greatest colorists of the 20th century. Indifferent to critics and fashions, little inclined to speculation without being a stranger to the aesthetic debates of his time, Pierre Bonnard was a passionate painter who never ceased to reflect on his practice and on the way to bring to life, in his own words, not nature, but painting itself.

The photographs show Bonnard's gangly appearance, and an air of astonishment behind his metal-rimmed glasses. His diary is sparse on personal details, but the man can be glimpsed through his correspondence and testimonies, to which are added the recollections of an art historian nephew and a grand-nephew, Antoine Terrasse, a specialist in postimpressionism. Gentle, discreet and solitary but good company, full of humor with fits of youthful gaiety and enthusiasm, Pierre Bonnard was also prone to a certain melancholy. If he confided little to those close to him, especially about his complex relationship with Martha, he did so through his painting.

The years of youth (1867-1887)

Pierre, Eugène, Frédéric in Fontenay-aux-Roses, was the son of Eugène Bonnard (1837-1895), an office manager at the Ministry of War, and Élisabeth Mertzdorff (1840-1919). He had an older brother, Charles (1864-1941), but felt closer to their younger daughter, Andrée (1872-1923). The information, fragmentary, indicates a happy childhood, and a vocation encouraged at first by the women of the family, until the meeting with the Nabis.

The life of this united and open Parisian family is punctuated by stays in the country.

Fontenay, a village of 2,500 inhabitants where market gardening had replaced rose growing, was linked to Paris by a horse-drawn tramway during the Second Empire. Eugène Bonnard settled there to divide his life between his books and his garden. However, the Bonnards left Fontenay-aux-Roses in 1870, which was evacuated at the time of the siege of Paris.

It is difficult to know whether they lived in another nearby suburb or in Paris itself, perhaps for a time on rue de Parme with Elisabeth's mother: the fact that she gave birth to Andrée there does not prove that they lived there permanently. Caroline Mertzdorff, from an Alsatian family settled in Paris, was very attached to her grandson Pierre, whom she took in during his studies and who would get his sense of discretion and independence from her.

His paternal grandfather, Michel Bonnard, was a farmer and grain merchant in the Dauphiné. Every summer, the family returned to their home in Grand-Lemps, whose vast garden adjoined a farm where Pierre Bonnard discovered animals as a child. As a teenager, he found time to paint there; as an adult, he found his family there in the summer months, until the sale of the "Clos" in 1928: it was for him like a return to earthly paradise. "Pierre was born among the roses and spent his vacations in the country: this city dweller will be all his life a lover of nature and luminous and colored spells.

The painter was very much inspired by the family circle. His mother did not like to pose and his father, a strict bourgeois, was an art lover but would prefer another path for his son: they appear little in his paintings, unlike his grandmother, his cousin Berthe Schaedlin (his first love), his sister Andrée and then her husband and children. A good pianist, she married in 1890 a music teacher and friend of Pierre's, the future operetta composer Claude Terrasse: offering Bonnard a true second home, they were immediately his most fervent admirers.

Bonnard's early vocation led him to a kind of double life: wise student on the one hand, budding artist on the other.

As a schoolboy and then a schoolboy in Vanves, he was sent to boarding school at the age of ten, like many middle-class children of his time, and then attended the Louis-le-Grand and Charlemagne high schools. He was a very good student, fond of ancient languages, classical literature and philosophy. He passed his baccalaureate in 1885 and reassured his father by enrolling in the Faculty of Law, where he obtained his degree in 1888. He was sworn in as a lawyer in 1889, but if he went to the courtroom every day, it was rather to sketch the men of the law. That year he worked part-time for a tax collector but did not pass the entrance exam for the tax administration, which was a relief for him.

Bonnard has been observing and drawing since he was a young man, constantly, everywhere, scenes caught on the fly. A sketchbook from 1881 contains his first watercolor of the Seine in Paris. In the following summers he drew around Grand-Lemps and as far as the lake of Paladru. His first oil paintings date from 1887 or 1888, small landscapes of the Dauphiné in the style of Corot, probably painted in the open air as he also did in Chatou or Bougival.

In retrospect, Bonnard relativizes his vocation in relation to the appeal of bohemianism: "At that time, what attracted me was not so much art but rather the life of an artist with all that it entailed in my idea of fantasy, of free disposition of oneself. Certainly, for a long time I was attracted by painting and drawing, but without it being an irresistible passion; while I wanted at all costs to escape from a monotonous life ". Art and freedom seem to go hand in hand: "I feel a real sense of deliverance and I mourn my studies with the greatest joy," he wrote to his mother in July 1888. Don't imagine that I am coming to Lemps to do some recording. I am going to bring a load of canvases and colors and I intend to smear from morning till night".

Perhaps after a stint at the Arts Décoratifs, Bonnard entered the Beaux-Arts in 1886, where he formed a close friendship with Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel. Seduced by the teaching, which was quite broad, he nevertheless shunned the classes and the sessions at the Louvre, failing the competition for the Prix de Rome. His later attachment to two classical principles - the importance of drawing and a predilection for the female nude - could nevertheless be attributed to this brief contact with the academic tradition.

Pierre Bonnard prefers the atmosphere of the Académie Julian, a private art school where nudes and portraits are worked on from models, without any obligation to attend or to submit work. There he met Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, Henri-Gabriel Ibels and Paul-Élie Ranson for lively discussions that continued at the café and, on Saturdays, at Ranson's and his wife's home. Bonnard listened more than he spoke, but he used humor and wit. They all dreamed of renewing painting.

Pierre Bonnard is one of those who created the Nabi movement in reference to the art of Paul Gauguin.

In October 1888, Paul Sérusier, a teacher at the Julian Academy, returned from Brittany, where he had painted L'Aven au bois d'amour on the lid of a cigar box under the direction of Paul Gauguin: for his fellow students, who knew nothing of recent developments in painting, this painting was a revelation.

Sérusier, Bonnard, Denis, Ranson and Ibels founded an informal group that called itself "nabi", from a Hebrew word meaning "initiate" and "prophet". They were "prophets" of Gauguin's art, whose works they admired at Boussod's and Valadon's and then at the Volpini exhibition of 1889; they were "initiates" in that they discovered the great Impressionists, unknown to their teachers, at Durand-Ruel's, and then, in Father Tanguy's store for example, Cézanne and van Gogh. From 1889 the first Nabis were joined by Édouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Félix Vallotton and others, not to mention visits from Odilon Redon or Gauguin himself.

The Nabi movement is part of symbolism, which aims to express the mysteries of the world, to find the spirituality that would have emptied a narrow materialism and, in art, naturalism. This is what Gauguin seeks by exalting the colors for their potential of emotion and reflection. His works confirm the Nabis in their principles: refusal to slavishly copy nature, blocks of virulent colors not always realistic, schematized forms, partitioned by a line.

The group gave each other a painting by Gauguin, which each of them took in turn, but Bonnard often forgot about it: his memory was enough for him and he did not need an icon in his home. L'Exercice, painted in the spring of 1890 during his military period, is one of his first attempts to play with bright colors by humorously aligning small soldiers with well-defined outlines on three planes.

During the meetings in their "temple", the studio of Ranson on Boulevard du Montparnasse, two tendencies emerged: one spiritual, even esoteric, behind the Catholic Maurice Denis; the other turned towards the representation of modern life, embodied by Bonnard - which did not prevent them from sharing a studio with Vuillard on Rue Pigalle in 1891. Francis Jourdain and Octave Mirbeau testified to the deep mutual esteem that united the Nabis and to their openness devoid of arrogance. Bonnard was distinguished by his lack of proselytizing, having, in the words of his friend Thadée Natanson, "enough to do with painting".

Within the group, Bonnard is the most influenced by Japanese art.

The vogue for Japonism, which began in the middle of the 19th century and culminated around 1890, seduced the Nabis with its use of pure colors without gradations, the renewal of perspective, and a subject captured from a bird's-eye view or from a low or high horizon. Their production extended to decorative objects: from 1889 Bonnard produced screens freely inspired by the motifs he had discovered in the magazine Le Japon artistique published by Siegfried Bing.

The following spring, the exhibition that Bing organized at the École des Beaux-Arts was an aesthetic shock for him. He lined his walls with reproductions of Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige, and popular images on crumpled rice paper, which enchanted him with their work on fabrics and the evocative power of colors, without relief or modeling: he had the impression of something learned but alive. He borrowed from prints, developing arabesques on high supports inspired by kakemonos: the young critic Félix Fénéon called him "the very Japanese Nabi".

The influence of Gauguin can still be felt in The Croquet Game (composition reminiscent of the Vision after the Sermon, hieraticism of the figures on the left, round of young girls), but the fabrics evoking collages and the absence of modelling take after Japanese art.

This one is more characteristic of Women in the Garden, a screen for which Bonnard had his sister and cousin pose in 1890, before separating the panels: against a background of stylized motifs, the four female figures - perhaps the seasons -, dressed in very graphic dresses, seem to be drawn in a single sinuous stream as in Hokusai. The flat fabrics, almost without folds, are Bonnard's trademark during this period. As for the Two Playing Dogs, intended for a decorative art competition in 1891, they are reminiscent of Japanese lacquer.

Towards recognition (1887-1900)

During the ten years of the Nabi group's existence, Bonnard remained closely linked to Vuillard by his need for independence and his distrust of theories. He often joined him in collective projects. He made a name for himself in the graphic and decorative arts, without suppressing his admiration for the Impressionists or his attraction to intimist subjects, especially after his meeting with Marthe.

Bonnard participated in the activities of the Nabis, whose common thread he summarized as follows: "Our generation has always sought the relationship between art and life.

Le Barc de Boutteville, their jovial defender, exhibited the Nabis with other painters (Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin...) from 1891 to 1896. In 1897 and 1898, the avant-garde art dealer Ambroise Vollard opened his new gallery in the rue Laffitte to them. Finally, in March 1899, when the movement was running out of steam, Durand-Ruel included them with Signac, Cross and Rysselberghe around Odilon Redon. For the Nabis, as for their English contemporaries of the Arts and Crafts movement, it is necessary to put an end to the division between major and minor arts, and to bring art into everyday life through the decorative arts, even applied arts; within the fine arts themselves, a dialogue must be established between painting, music, poetry, theater.

Bonnard makes this quest for "total art" his own. He first works graciously with Denis and Vuillard for Antoine's Théâtre-Libre. In the basement of the rue Pigalle, Lugné-Poe, who, after having created Pelléas et Mélisande by Maurice Maeterlinck, settled in 1893 at the Maison de l'Œuvre: Pierre Bonnard drew the vignette and Vuillard the programs of this theater where plays by Henrik Ibsen or August Strindberg were to be performed. In December 1896, Ubu roi was premiered: Claude Terrasse signed the music, Bonnard helped Sérusier and Jarry with the masks and sets. Alfred Jarry revived his play at the beginning of 1898 at the Pantins "théâtricule", in the Terrasse apartment on rue Ballu: the composer accompanied the puppets on the piano, this time made by his brother-in-law, with the exception of Ubu's. Bonnard, who was close to Jarry, collaborated on L'Almanach du Père Ubu illustré (1901) and on various writings by Ambroise Vollard on this literary character.

The Nabis found themselves in the intentions of La Revue blanche, an artistic and literary monthly that the Natanson brothers had just founded: to integrate everything that was being done or had been done in order to develop his personality without fighting. Thadée Natanson noticed Bonnard's works at Le Barc de Boutteville and at the Salon des Indépendants, becoming his first collector. He entrusted him with the realization of the poster of 1894. It still owes a debt to Japanese prints, but text and image are mixed in a humorous way: the shadow of a bat, the equivocal look of the young woman, "l" hanging from her arm and "a" wrapped around her leg.

The model is undoubtedly Misia, the wife of Thadée Natanson, who entertains at the rue Saint-Florentin. A talented pianist with a slightly scoundrel beauty, she was the sometimes cruel muse of the young artists and intellectuals of the 1890s. Bonnard left several drawings of her, including a nude, and continued to paint her after his divorce from Natanson.

Bonnard begins to live from his more or less Japanese graphic productions.

Every year he prepares the Salon des indépendants. In 1891 he sent L'Exercice, the portrait of his sister with her dogs, Women in the Garden, and L'Après-midi au jardin, which the painter Henry Lerolle bought. Interviewed by L'Echo de Paris, Bonnard confidently declared: "I am not from any school. I am only trying to do something personal. The following year, his consignment included La partie de croquet and Le corsage à carreaux, among others, in which he painted Andrée from a slightly overhanging perspective in a garment that looks like a mosaic laid flat.

At the beginning of 1891, Bonnard sold 100 francs to the company France-Champagne for a three-color poster that was displayed on the walls of Paris. In spite of its very "fin de siècle" scrolls, it was striking in its sobriety, compared to the posters of Jules Chéret; the curve of the arm, the overflowing foam, the animated lettering were perceived as joyful audacity. Toulouse-Lautrec, in admiration, sought to make the acquaintance of the man who still signed "PB": Bonnard would willingly step aside in front of his new friend to represent La Goulue or Valentin le Désossé for the Moulin-Rouge. In the meantime, France-Champagne commissioned him to paint the cover of a "Valse de salon". In 1892 he took a studio in the rue des Batignolles.

From 1892 to 1893 he applied himself to illustrating Le Petit Solfège by his brother-in-law. This was followed by other albums and amusing scenes inspired by the Terrasse couple and their babies. Moreover, "the street constitutes for Bonnard the most attractive of shows". Captivated by the ballet of the bourgeoisie and the people around the Place de Clichy, he never ceased to "capture the picturesque", as Claude Roger-Marx put it in 1895. The two-tone lithographs in La Revue blanche were followed by the polychrome prints in the booklets published by Vollard, where the Nabis rubbed shoulders with Edvard Munch or Redon: thus in 1899, Quelques aspects de la vie de Paris.

Bonnard was interested in all kinds of popular and everyday productions, and he learned from each illustration technique. When Durand-Ruel offered him his first solo exhibition in January 1896, he made a point of showing, alongside fifty paintings and drawings, several posters and lithographs, the Solfège and two screens.

In 1893, Pierre Bonnard fell in love with the woman who would remain his main model and, despite her mysteries, the woman of his life.

Probably in the spring of 1893, Bonnard dared to approach a young girl getting off a streetcar: seduced by her fragile grace, he asked her to pose for him. A saleswoman in an artificial flower store, she told him she was sixteen years old, her name was Marthe de Méligny and she was an orphaned aristocrat. The model quickly became his mistress.

It was apparently when he married her in August 1925 that the painter discovered that her name was Maria Boursin, that she was twenty-four years old when they met, and that she came from a modest family in Berry. Unless he knew and wanted to protect his secret, this thirty-two-year-old lie suggests both a visceral social shame and a pathological taste for concealment in Marthe, Bonnard cryptically expresses his turmoil in The Window : His wife (inside, a gaping cardboard box adjoins (like a Pandora's box) the novel Marie by the Dane Peter Nansen, which Bonnard illustrated in 1897 based on his companion, and a blank sheet of paper on which to write the rest of their story.

This relationship helped Bonnard to forget his cousin Berthe, who was apparently dissuaded by her family from giving her hand to an artist. Bourgeois etiquette kept him from introducing his concubine to them for a long time: the first photos of Marthe at the Bonnards' house date from 1902. The young woman formed an obscure and exclusive bond with the painter, at the risk of cutting him off from his friends. Vallotton and Vuillard - the only ones allowed to paint her once. Natanson describes a light creature with the appearance of a frightened bird, with a high-pitched but deaf voice, with delicate lungs: her physical, even psychological fragility is undoubtedly what attaches Bonnard and pushes him to devotion. Marthe offers him sometimes a discreet presence conducive to creation, sometimes the image of an eroticism without artifice.

As early as 1893, the nude appears massively in his work: while several paintings take up the topos of black stockings, La Baignade shows Marthe as a nymph in a green setting, and in L'Indolente she lies languid on an unmade bed. It was from Marthe that Bonnard created "this tapered silhouette à la Tanagra" that recurs in his paintings: a youthful, slender body, long legs, and small, high breasts. Bonnard's companion, who appears in some 140 paintings and 700 drawings, reading, sewing or using the toilet, may also have inspired him to paint passers-by like the one in L'Omnibus.

For the writer Alain Vircondelet, Marthe's intrusion into his life reveals Bonnard in the major dimensions of his art, intimate and luminous. There is no need for posing sessions: "he only asks her to be" and paints her from memory in her décor and daily gestures, by which she seems to embody the simple plenitude of present happiness. Commentators agree that with Marthe he chose painting are more severe: if Bonnard may have used the pretext of the sensitivity of his companion to get away from the world and take refuge in painting, she still "a little spoiled his life" - what the art historian Nicholas Watkins summarizes as follows: Martha is for the painter "his muse, his jailer.

This summer marks for Bonnard the turning point where "he abandons the Nabi aesthetic to turn to Impressionism".

The end of the century saw the decline of post-impressionist trends. Bonnard dates his true discovery of the great Impressionist painters from this period, notably through the Caillebotte bequest to the Musée du Luxembourg in early 1897. "Colors, harmonies, relationships of lines and tones, balance, lost their abstract meaning to become something very concrete", he later analyzed, adding: "Gauguin is a classic, almost a traditionalist, Impressionism brought us freedom". According to Watkins, Bonnard learned to use paint in visible strokes and to detach himself from the object to privilege the atmosphere. Camille Pissarro found him a promising "painter's eye".

In November Eugène Bonnard died, but the family continued to grow: Charles had three children, Andrée five. In Paris, in Le Grand-Lemps, where his mother had set up a studio, Pierre Bonnard painted moments of peaceful daily life, grouping his nephews around a lamp or his grandmother, who was still alive, to console him for not having any children. The spatial organization of these interior scenes in chiaroscuro comes from his companionship with Édouard Vuillard, to the point that some of their paintings from that time can be confused.

In 1897 Ambroise Vollard asked Bonnard to publish Paul Verlaine's collection Parallèlement. Taking Marthe as a model, the painter spent two years mixing 109 voluptuous lithographs with the text, drawn in sanguine pink to, he said, "better render Verlaine's poetic atmosphere". The art dealer repeats the experience, despite the failure of this work considered since then as one of the most beautiful books of painter of the twentieth century: the Daphnis and Chloe of Longus comes out in 1902 decorated with 156 lithographs in blue, gray or black, evoking the ancient Lesbos from landscapes of the Dauphiné and the Ile-de-France. After Marie by Peter Nansen, Bonnard illustrated Le Prométhée mal enchaîné by André Gide (1899) and the Histoires naturelles by Jules Renard (1904).

In 1899 he set up his studio at the foot of the Montmartre hill, 65 rue de Douai. "After ten years spent with his Nabis comrades, Bonnard felt, like each of them, the need for a new independence. An admirer of Rodin, he tried his hand at sculpture for a short time. He also devoted himself to photography until about 1916, taking some 200 pictures with his portable Kodak camera, not for artistic purposes - although he took care of the composition, framing and light - but to capture moments of intimate or family life that could be used in his paintings.

Maturity (1900-1930)

Pierre Bonnard seeks out new horizons in France and abroad, and maintains relationships outside his union with Marthe. He got closer to nature in his house in Normandy and then in his villa in the South of France. His artistic maturity seems to have been reached around 1908: the Nabis flat tints no longer dominate, his palette has become clearer and he takes care of the composition. Just before the First World War, he reexamined his relationship with Impressionism, rediscovering the necessity of drawing, but in connection with colors. The 1920s brought him ease and notoriety.

From 1900, caught up in a travel frenzy, Bonnard made a habit of leaving Paris in the spring.

In 1899 Bonnard and Vuillard went to London, then to Italy with Ker-Xavier Roussel: Bonnard brought back sketches of Milan and Venice. In the spring of 1901, the three of them visited Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Toledo and Madrid with Princes Emmanuel and Antoine Bibesco. It was while comparing Titian and Velázquez at the Prado Museum that the artist had the intuition of what would guide him from then on: to try, like the Venetian master, to "defend himself" against the motif, to transform it according to his own idea of it.

In 1905 and 1906, Misia, remarried to the press owner Alfred Edwards, invited him on her yacht with Maurice Ravel or Pierre Laprade for cruises in the North Sea: some of his drawings were used to illustrate Octave Mirbeau's La 628-E8. Bonnard will visit the museums of Belgium, the Netherlands and Berlin several times. In February 1908, he took Marthe for a month to Algeria and Tunisia, where he found that "the French bourgeois and the Moors" coexisted badly. On their return, the couple went to Italy, and then the painter went back to London in the company of Vuillard and Edwards.

In the 1900s Bonnard went to Normandy a lot: Criquebeuf and Vasouy with Vuillard, L'Étang-la-Ville with Roussel, Varengeville-sur-Mer near Vallotton's house, Colleville-sur-Mer, Honfleur, etc.

His first stay in Saint-Tropez dates from 1904, where he met Paul Signac, who still reproached him for his dull colors and carelessness in form. This was followed by stays in Marseille, Toulon and Banyuls-sur-Mer at Maillol's. It was in June and July 1909 that Bonnard, returning to Saint-Tropez to stay with a friend - Henri Manguin or Paul Simon - said that he had experienced a dazzling effect, "a blast from the Arabian Nights. The sea, the walls, yellow, the reflections as colorful as the lights...". From then on, every winter and sometimes in other seasons, he rented at least one month a year in Saint-Tropez, Antibes or Cannes.

Without giving up abroad, Bonnard continued to criss-cross France, from Wimereux to the Côte d'Azur, and from Arcachon, where the Terrasses lived, to spa towns such as Uriage-les-Bains, where Marthe took cures. He continued despite the difficulties during the First World War.

At nearly 47 years of age, he escaped mobilization: as a reservist, he was not called up. The war spared his nephews and his immediate family, but 1919 was marked by the death of his mother. The double bereavement that struck him in 1923 was even more terrible: Claude Terrasse died at the end of June, and Andrée three months later.

The spectacle and the air of Paris were no longer enough for Bonnard, but he never strayed far from its effervescence.

Of all the Nabis, he was most fascinated by the atmosphere of the streets and squares of Paris and Montmartre. "The heroism of this modern life is the driving force of all his paintings, where people walk the sidewalks like myriads of ants, playing their roles like automatons in a setting that changes according to the neighborhood and social classes": this human dimension brings him back to the city even if he finds it difficult to work there.

He often changed his studio and separated his home from it. Around 1905, keeping the rue de Douai as his home, he transferred his studio across the street, in a former convent, and kept it when he moved to 49 rue Lepic in May 1909. A year later, the studio was moved to Misia's, quai Voltaire, and then in October 1912 to the Cité d'Artistes des Fusains, 22 rue Tourlaque: Bonnard made little use of it but kept it all his life. In October 1916, he moved closer to the Terrasse family to 56 rue Molitor; after their death, he left Auteuil for 48 boulevard des Batignolles.

In 1900 Bonnard rented a house in Montval, on the hillside of Marly-le-Roi, and returned there for several years, loving to have Martha pose in the garden. He then moved to Médan, Villennes-sur-Seine and Saint-Germain-en-Laye along the Seine from 1912 to 1916. Bonnard also rented in Vernonnet, in the commune of Vernon, and in 1912 he acquired a small house that he called "Ma Roulotte". Marthe demanded a bathroom, but the comfort remained basic. For the painter, the lush garden and the running balcony that offers a panoramic view of the river, where he likes to canoe, and the countryside, where he walks every morning whatever the weather. The couple has always chosen modest houses, at first out of necessity, then out of rejection of middle-class buildings, and has never installed more than light furniture.

Bonnard's revelation of the bright light of the Midi, says art historian Georges Roque, became a myth that he himself reinforced, even though the changing light of the North attracted him at least as much. Watkins, recalling Bonnard's admiration for Eugène Boudin, also believes that the cloudy skies and verdant landscapes of the North are in his art a necessary complement to the warmth of the South - Vernon, where he met Claude Monet in 1909, also seemed to him an earthly paradise sheltered from the modern world.

In fact, the painter, without excluding other destinations, never stopped dividing himself between these three poles: the City (Paris), the North (Normandy) and the South (the French Riviera). He transported his paintings from one place to another rolled on the roof of his car.

Pierre Bonnard did not talk about his life with Marthe, which was apparently quiet: perhaps only his paintings offer some clues.

Bonnard dressed with dandy-like elegance but was not interested in money, entrusting for a time the management of his income to the brothers Gaston and Josse Bernheim, who had been exhibiting his work at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery since 1906. If he was happy to buy his first car - a Renault 11CV - and his first house in 1912, he and Marthe lived without ostentation and had no one to serve them. Getting by on a daily basis with mismatched dishes did not prevent the painter, who loved to drive, from driving a Ford and then a Lorraine-Dietrich, nor from going on trips to grand hotels.

His career obliges him to lead a worldly life, but his love of calm and nature as well as the growing savagery of his companion inclines him to keep his distance: a painting like La Loge is less concerned with portraits (the Bernheims at the Paris Opera) than with the atmosphere of a place where opulence is displayed.

As for their private lives, Man and Woman has often been interpreted dramatically, knowing that the models are precisely Marthe and Bonnard: the screen between them would symbolize the loneliness that sometimes arises after pleasure, each one falling back into his "inner dream". Unlike the paintings of Edvard Munch, Watkins notes, the attitude of the woman playing on the bed with kittens does not express any guilt. Olivier Renault, sensitive to the rarity - before Egon Schiele - of a nude self-portrait, detects a certain serenity in this enigmatic scene, which would simply suggest that love is not fusion.

From 1916 to 1918, Bonnard had an affair with Lucienne Dupuy de Frenelle, the wife of his family doctor, of whom he painted many portraits. In the Cheminée, seen from the front in the mirror while a psyche reflects part of her back, she erects a sculptural bust under a painting by Maurice Denis belonging to Bonnard, a slimmer, reclining nude woman: beyond the mise en abyme, Renault again thinks of a coded message, especially since the painter often shows two women together in toilet scenes, sometimes only one of them nude.

In 1918, Bonnard, no doubt in search of more fleshy models than Marthe, approached Renée Montchaty, a young artist living with the American painter Harry Lachman. She became his mistress, although it is not clear whether Marthe knew about it, was subjected to it or consented to it, or whether it was a threesome. Bonnard painted a lot of the blonde Renée, who accompanied him for two weeks in Rome in March 1921. However, far from leaving Marthe, Pierre married her: Renée committed suicide shortly afterwards, in September 1925. Deeply distressed, Bonnard would never part with some of the paintings she had inspired.

Between 1913 and 1915, Bonnard's ambivalence towards Impressionism provoked a deeper crisis than that of the 1890s, as it affected "the very essence of his vision as a painter".

At the beginning of the century Bonnard was still searching for his own style: he expanded his views of Paris, added seascapes to his landscapes, and combined intimist scenes, nudes and still lifes. "Always aware of everything and always against the tide," as Antoine Terrasse put it, he wondered with Vuillard about the challenges of modernity. At the time when Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque launched pre-cubism, he developed - in an apparent anachronism of inspiration and manner - a new sense of composition, "key to everything" according to him: he cut his landscapes into successive planes, inaugurated photographic-type framing, and imagined interiors where a mirror occupies the space and mediates the representation of objects. However, he gradually became aware that he had neglected forms in favor of color.

"The color had led me, and I sacrificed the form to it almost unconsciously. But it is true that form exists, and that one cannot arbitrarily and indefinitely transpose it": Bonnard realizes that in wanting to go beyond the naturalism of colors, the risk is to see the object dissolve in them. Yet they remain the only means of exalting light and atmosphere, which the form must not suffocate either.

So he returns to drawing, developing the art of sketching to the point of noting variations in climate and atmosphere. He never paints on location anymore, but always has a diary in his pocket - unless he uses the back of an envelope or a shopping list: the pages are covered with observations on his surroundings and the weather, as well as indications on the effects of color and light to expect. The code is precise: dots for light impacts, crosshatching for shadows, crosses to indicate that a distinct hue close to the color written in pencil or ink must be found. Back in the studio, Bonnard sketched the whole picture and then applied the colors both from memory and by drawing in hand or pinned to the wall. His notebook becomes a sort of repertoire of forms and emotions replacing the studies.

One of the most sought-after of the (former) Nabis, Bonnard was commissioned to paint large-scale décors.

Between 1906 and 1910, he painted four large panels for Misia Edwards in the baroque taste of the "Queen of Paris": The Pleasure, The Study, The Game and The Journey (or Water Games). The theme is less important than the variations on a mythical Arcadia: children, bathers, nymphs, fauns and animals frolic in fantastical landscapes bordered by monkeys and thieving magpies. Presented at the Salon d'Automne, the panels were installed at a party on the Quai Voltaire where the whole of Paris could see them.

Bonnard also worked for the businessman Ivan Morozov, a great collector of modern art. In 1911, he painted a triptych for the staircase of his Moscow mansion: taking up L'Allée, painted the previous year in Grasse, the artist framed it with two other panels, barely wider, to form Méditerranée. This scene of women and children in the garden, with its softened tones and a certain realism, was exhibited at the Salon and later completed by Spring and Autumn.

In 1916, far from current events, a set for the Bernheim brothers returned to a golden age evoking Virgil: Symphonie pastorale, Monuments, Le Paradis terrestre, Cité moderne juxtapose or combine art and nature, work and leisure, classical and biblical references, temporal and eternal. In 1917 Bonnard decorated the Villa Flora of the Hahnloser couple, who allowed him to exhibit in Winterthur, and in 1918 he undertook six large landscapes in Uriage-les-Bains for another Swiss art lover.

In October 1920, he delivered the set for Jeux, a show staged in Paris by the Swedish Ballets: the poem set to music by Debussy was choreographed by Jean Börlin and danced in costumes designed by Jeanne Lanvin.

This was followed by a few more creations, Le Café du Petit Poucet being, for example, the last Parisian scene executed, in 1928, for George and Adèle Besson. Pierre Bonnard reunited with Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel to work at the Palais de Chaillot for the 1937 World's Fair: La Pastorale remains his largest panel (335 × 350 cm).

Bonnard continues to paint extensively. Although he increasingly shunned public life, he remained close to his friends and was successful.

During the 1920s, the painter multiplied the landscapes on which he remained for a long time, occasionally letting the colors and light of the South invade the paintings done in the North, and vice versa. His nudes, less voluptuous, are more interested in the plastic beauty, not without suggesting in passing the melancholy of Martha. Finally, the painter deepened his work on still lifes, either isolated or in the foreground of his domestic scenes, striving to render what Pierre Reverdy called "the humble psychology of things".

Modest and aware of the difficulties of the profession, Bonnard always refrained from criticizing his painter friends. Faithful all his life to the companions of the first hour, he still sometimes worked with Vuillard, undoubtedly the closest. In Vernon, the couple's friends came and went, even if Marthe increasingly resented their presence: Natanson, Misia, the Bessons, the Hahnlosers, the Bernheims, Ambroise Vollard and Jos Hessel.

Claude Monet also came, when it was not Bonnard who went to Giverny. Notwithstanding their age difference and their differences on composition or plein air painting, these two artists, who were not very talkative, understood each other: the master asked about the work of his younger brother, who was always deferential, expressing his opinion with a gesture or a smile. Their complicity increased with Bonnard's chromatic explorations - until the void left by Monet's death in late 1926.

Bonnard continued an artistic dialogue with Henri Matisse, which had begun around 1905 despite their different backgrounds (Matisse's Fauvist period, for example). Each of them acquired paintings by the other at Bernheim's and followed his evolution with interest. Their correspondence began with a postcard from Matisse containing only the words "Vive la peinture! Friendships": it will last until the end.

In May and June 1921, the Bernheim brothers exhibit twenty-four paintings by Bonnard in addition to the panels designed during the war, and five years later organize an exhibition "Bonnard: Recent Works". The artist regularly sent paintings to the Salon d'Automne and his value climbed on the art market. In 1927, following those of François Fosca and Léon Werth in 1919 and Claude Roger-Marx in 1924, Charles Terrasse's important monograph, illustrated and supervised by his uncle, was a milestone.

In April 1924, the Eugène Druet Gallery presented the first retrospective of Pierre Bonnard's work. The 68 paintings exhibited, painted between 1890 and 1922, made Élie Faure say that "like the rarest artists, he gives the impression of having invented painting", because he sees things with a new eye and above all gives a new rhythm to the colors and harmonies: the eminent critic opposes those who, in order to praise Bonnard, speak of his "ingenuity", or even of a "child painter".

This event extended Bonnard's reputation beyond the borders of France. Having received a Carnegie Prize from the Pittsburgh Museum of Fine Arts in 1923 - he was awarded another one in 1936 - he was asked to join the jury in 1926, and so he crossed the Atlantic, discovering Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and New York. On this occasion, he met Duncan Phillips, who had been collecting his work for two years. The first major exhibition of Bonnard's work abroad was held in 1928 at the gallery that César Mange de Hauke had opened in New York.

In February 1926, Bonnard acquired a chalet-like, pink-plastered villa in Le Cannet, 29 avenue Victoria, which he named Le Bosquet after the neighborhood. Surrounded by a vast garden, it enjoys a wide view of the bay of Cannes and the Esterel massif. He had major work done before moving in a year later: balconies, French windows, electricity, heating, running water, bathroom, garage. He painted the garden and the rooms of the house more than a hundred times, with the exception of Martha's room; she is omnipresent, sometimes reduced to a shadow, in the paintings of the living room or the dining room; the time she spends in her bath (for pleasure, medical necessity or a sick obsession for cleanliness) inspires her husband's famous nudes in the bathtub.

Bonnard, who looked for open or elevated viewpoints in his home as he did on a walk, did not like to be constrained by the space of the canvas either. He buys it by the meter, cuts a larger piece than necessary, and hangs it on the wall without a stretcher so that he can change the format of his painting. In the small studio of the Bosquet - the large installations intimidate him - traces of thumbtacks are still visible. He does the same at the hotel, assuring that the wallpaper's ramifications do not bother him in any way.

"This outdated passion for painting" (1930-1947)

"The 1930s were years of intense work for Bonnard, but also of struggle. Very active until the end, he maintains his course despite the criticism. More and more often retired to Le Cannet, he faced, not without anguish at times, the difficulties of age, the war, and the death of his loved ones. He took refuge in his painting, always more radiant.

"Before being the expression of a unique genius, said Bonnard, painting must be the obstinate, intense exercise of a craft.

This did not prevent him from traveling a lot: in addition to the cities of water for Martha, he was able to drive in his car, in two weeks and in no particular order, to Toulon, Arles, Montpellier, Pau, Bayonne, Arcachon. He discovered La Baule, where he stayed from October 1933 to April 1934. Following in the footsteps of Eugène Boudin, he rented regularly in Deauville between 1935 and 1938 - the year in which he sold "Ma Roulotte", as if disenchanted since the death of Monet. It was in Deauville that in 1937 the journalist Ingrid Rydbeck interviewed him for a Swedish art magazine: he spoke of his Nabi period, his post-impressionist research, his ambition to express everything through colors, the organization and slowness of his work, concluding with a laugh that "to tell the truth, it is difficult to paint.

Bonnard's notebooks reveal "a man possessed by a tyrannical need to work". Thus, in 1930, an illness forced him to stay in his room: Arthur Hahnloser, seeing him anxious to do nothing, prescribed that he take up watercolor again. Disappointed by its fluidity, Bonnard called for gouache, and never stopped exploring the possibilities of enhancing transparent colors with opaque white. Hedy Hahnloser testifies that he can work to order but always needs the emotional trigger to begin with, what he calls "the enchanting aspect": "It has to ripen like an apple," he writes. The execution can then prove to be very long, as he constantly reworks the details and the colors, having the impression that the motif - even if it is approached many times - escapes him: he stayed almost a year on a Nude in the Bath and the Swiss couple had to wait seven years for The Landing.

Bonnard goes from one subject and one canvas to another, his enthusiasm and his exigency forcing him to make interruptions, repeats and overlaps which "will prohibit until the end the establishment of a rigorous chronology in his work". The "periods" that can be distinguished in other painters are manifested in his work "only through the ever more thoughtful modifications he makes to the same subject". The notion of a finished, completed work," notes the writer Alain Lévêque, "gives way to that of a perpetual sketch, of continual recommencement. Thus, it is not uncommon for Bonnard to ask to touch up one of his works in a private home or in a gallery; George Besson tells us that even in the museum, he would sometimes wait for the guard to leave, to pull a tiny box of colors from his pocket and furtively pick up a detail that concerned him, before leaving the room as if he had played a prank.

Although his value may have suffered from the Great Depression as well as from a disaffection for the Impressionists, to whom he is assimilated, Bonnard remains one of the best known painters of his generation.

In June 1933, while George Besson gathered forty portraits at the Galerie Braun, Bernheim unveiled about thirty recent paintings. During the following years, Bonnard exhibited with Édouard Vuillard (Rosenberg Gallery, 1936), Kees van Dongen and Albert Marquet (Jacques Rodrigues-Henriques Gallery, 1939 and 1945). Pierre Berès made his graphic work known at the end of 1944 and in June 1946, the Bernheim sons devoted their first major post-war retrospective to him.

In New York, seven of his paintings were shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 1930 ("Painting in Paris"), and forty-four at Nathan Wildenstein's gallery in the spring of 1934. A gallery owner in Zurich opened his doors to him in 1932, and in May 1935 he went to London for the opening of his exhibition at Reid & Lefèvre. Elected to the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium in July 1936, he saw his works exhibited in Oslo and Stockholm in early 1939 and became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in April.

He is embarrassed by the publicity: "I can feel that there is something in what I do, but to make such a big deal out of it is crazy..." Alongside laudatory articles, criticism does not seem to affect him: he has become accustomed, for example, to being blamed for a lack of rigor. "Bonnard knew he was despised by a part of the painting intelligentsia, led by Picasso," summarized Olivier Renault, who reproached him for obeying nature without transcending it. It was a time when the avant-garde considered that painting "from nature" was no longer possible and when Aragon predicted that this art would soon be nothing more than "an anodyne entertainment reserved for young girls and old provincials". Bonnard nevertheless pushed the simplification of forms further and further, some of his paintings becoming almost abstract.

He continued unperturbed to paint his house, the flowers and fruits of his garden, renewing the alliances of colors in these repetitive subjects. I work a lot, more and more sunk in this outdated passion of painting," he wrote in 1933 to his nephew Charles Terrasse. Perhaps I am one of the last survivors, along with a few others. The main thing is that I am not bored...". The Boxer already, a self-portrait from 1931, showed him emaciated and as if ready for a derisory struggle.

Bonnard moved to Le Cannet in September 1939 and stayed there until the end of the Second World War, mainly painting.

Guy Cogeval thinks that Bonnard, whose paintings do not reflect any of the tragic contemporary events, was unaware of them: "he is probably the least committed painter in the history of art", which may have done him a disservice. On the contrary, Antoine Terrasse believes him to be very affected by the conflict, overcoming his anguish in the spectacle of nature - which he says is his only consolation -, in relentless work, and in close ties with Matisse: the two painters wrote to each other a lot and saw each other in Le Cannet, in Nice or in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Olivier Renault, for his part, following the historian of the Resistance Thomas Rabino, lends Bonnard "a resistant posture", in his non-frontal but determined way.

He did not participate like other French artists in the trip to Berlin in November 1941, and then refused to paint a portrait of Pétain: he demanded posing sessions and compensation in kind that discouraged the Vichy emissary. Above all, he refrained from selling paintings throughout the war. It was against his will that he was included in the inaugural exhibition of the Palais de Tokyo in August 1942. The only gallery where he was seen was the one opened in Nice by Jean Moulin, who came at the end of 1942 to ask him and Matisse for paintings. Finally, the former Dreyfusard was concerned about the fate of his gallery owners, the Bernheims, who wrote to express their support for French art.

In July 1945, Bonnard was happy to be back in Paris for a week. He stayed in Paris longer the following year, between the retrospective at Bernheim and an exhibition at the newly opened Maeght Gallery.

The last years of the painter are overshadowed by the unsociability of Martha and her disappearance, after that of several friends.

Pierre Bonnard learns in Cannet that Édouard Vuillard died in La Baule on June 21, 1940. Sandrine Malinaud detected a resemblance between his lifelong companion and the bearded and balding Saint-François de Sales that he painted from 1942 to 1945 for the church of Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce on the Plateau d'Assy. Between 1940 and 1944, Bonnard lost his painter friend Józef Pankiewicz, his brother Charles, Joseph Bernheim, Maurice Denis, Félix Fénéon, and the other great accomplice Ker-Xavier Roussel. His letters to Besson and Matisse echo his sadness, increased by the death of Martha.

The modesty of their relatives and of Bonnard himself prevents us from pinpointing Marthe's pathologies. Thadée Natanson praises the self-sacrifice of his friend, who never wanted to leave her alone in a sanatorium, either because of her bronchial tubes or, later, because of what Hedy Hahnloser called her "mental disorders. The painter confided to Signac's wife: "Poor Marthe has become a complete misanthrope. She no longer wants to see anyone, not even her old friends, and we are condemned to complete solitude." He advises her to pretend to meet them by chance. And for a long time now he has had to pretend to walk the dogs to meet his own friends in the café.

The restrictions due to the war worsened Martha's condition. Cared for and watched over by her husband, she died on January 26, 1942. Bonnard marks this day in his diary and organizes a discreet funeral. Her dismay is evident in some of her letters: "You can see my grief and my loneliness, full of bitterness and anxiety about the life I can still lead", "one does not realize what such isolation, such a loss, can be at seventy-four years of age. Life is broken...". He makes Martha's room sacred by sealing the door.

His last self-portraits betray Bonnard's melancholy. In 1946, Gisèle Freund and Brassaï only allowed him to be photographed in his studio, while he was painting. However, the color explodes on his landscapes and he confides to a visitor: "Never has the light seemed so beautiful to me." He still has the energy to meet young painters and to go to Paris to see his exhibitions or others, such as the first Salon des réalités nouvelles.

From October 7 to 20, 1946, Bonnard went to Paris for the last time.

He stopped at the home of his nephew Charles Terrasse, curator of the Château de Fontainebleau, and retouched L'Atelier au mimosa, overgrown with yellow, and Le Cheval de cirque, often compared to the 1945 self-portrait and presented with other paintings at the Salon d'automne. He accepted the idea of a retrospective organized by MoMA in New York for his eightieth birthday.

Back at the Bosquet, where his niece Renée had settled since the end of the war, he felt his strength decline rapidly. Bedridden, he thought about The Almond Tree in Bloom, painted the previous spring: "this green doesn't fit, we need yellow...", he said to Charles who had come to see him. Charles helped him hold his brush to add yellow to the left of the tree's base. Pierre Bonnard died a few days later, on January 23, 1947.

He is buried in the Notre-Dame-des-Anges cemetery in Le Cannet: the slab simply bears his name and dates, under those of Marthe.

The Bonnard Estate

The unsuspected existence of heirs on Martha's side caused a legal imbroglio that lasted more than fifteen years.

The painter and his companion had married without a contract: according to the community regime, Marthe owned half of her husband's works, including those that had never left the studio and over which an artist had no moral rights at the time. After her death, a notary advised Bonnard, who had always believed her to have no family, to draw up a paper in which she would have declared that she had bequeathed him everything she owned: this was to avoid the sequestration of the studio while a search was made for heirs.

When the painter died, four of Marthe's nieces, named Bowers, made themselves known. They discover that the will, signed "Marthe de Méligny" and inadvertently dated the day of the visit to the notary, is apocryphal. They went to court while the Bosquet villa was placed under seal. For Maurice Garçon, representing Bonnard's eight nephews and grand-nephews, the community of property should exclude works that had never been exhibited, reproduced or sold; Vincent de Moro-Giafferri, defending the Bowers sisters, accused the artist's successors of receiving stolen goods and demanded that they be deprived of the entirety of the property. Marthe's heirs won the case after a long procedure.

Daniel Wildenstein, who had known Bonnard since childhood, bought the Terrasse's successive rights for a million dollars, and tried to argue on appeal that a document dated several months after the death of its supposed signatory was not a real forgery. In 1956, the "Bonnard decision" rendered by the Court of Cassation recognized the "right to finish": pictorial works are part of common property but the author can use them as he pleases. The Court of Appeal of Orléans added in 1959 that the community only included works already disclosed. Wildenstein recovered almost everything: he returned 28% to the Bowers, another part to the Terrasse family, and kept 180 paintings.

A precedent-setting ruling bears the name of the man who had once shunned the law, and whose 600 or so paintings, plus a number of drawings and watercolors, remained hidden from the public until 1963.

Bonnard left behind an enormous body of work, essentially pictorial, whose impressionist filiation may have obscured his desire to "advance the language of painting" on the bangs of 20th century developments. In addition to family memories, his correspondence and notes, specialists have at their disposal, in addition to his interview with Ingrid Rydbeck in 1937, an interview from 1943 for the magazine Verve where, without evading the questions as often, he explains to the journalist and art critic Angèle Lamotte his conception of painting, his references in the matter and his processes. Little inclined to theorizing, he reflected with his palette in hand.

The painted work

"Art is not nature" reminds Bonnard, for whom the canvas is above all a decorative surface to be looked at as such. His aim is not to imitate nature but to transpose it from an idea, and not so much to capture happy moments as to remind us of experienced sensations. Witness of the pictorial revolutions of his time, he perverts, in a distanced relation to the object, the illusion of the perspective and the verisimilitude of the colors. These are from one end to the other the alpha and omega of his painting.

Bonnard said "floats between intimacy and decoration" but his paintings are more than the colorful expression of an old-fashioned happiness.

His fidelity to everyday subjects has long led him to be regarded as a retarded painter of pre-World War I bourgeois rituals and pleasures. His interior scenes can be seen as "concentrates of bourgeois life in the past", and he has increasingly limited himself to the representation of an everyday life without asperities, which seems to magnify a reassuring well-being, and where man seems in adequacy with his environment. His themes and his shimmering palette earned him a "reputation as a bourgeois and decorative painter.

Subscribing to the common idea, Bonnard defines the work of art as "a pause in time", and his "tends to be perceived only in a suspended time, made of small moments dreamed in a familiar, peaceful and luminous universe". Martha in any case does not age, "frozen" without "any wrinkle, no flesh defeated (in the manner of)", even at the end of her life - and after her death. Perhaps the painter was trying to ward off the torments of his health: "He who sings is not always happy," he wrote in 1944.

However, nostalgia and history are absent from his paintings. What he seeks to render above all is "an ephemeral sensory experience" and the freshness of a conceptual image. It is not so much a matter of trying to capture reality through a moment, as of allowing himself to be invaded by it and to bring it back to life on occasion. "Like Proust, Bonnard is fascinated by the way our perception of the world is reshaped by memory. His paintings, which ultimately paint "neither the real nor the imaginary, but a real transfigured by the emotion of memory," would be closer to the attempts to isolate, in À la recherche du temps perdu, "a little time in its pure state."

To paint an object in the guise of a memory is to recall that it no longer exists, even if the eye still enjoys it: Jean Clair is not far from seeing in Bonnard "the painter of anxiety and disenchantment", and Ann Hindry perceives an expression of anguish from his first self-portrait, in which he is holding the tools of his art. "He had a passion for painting. And passion is never serene," she concludes.

Falseness," Bonnard notes, "is cutting out a piece of nature and copying it": he even distrusts the model - hence also the crisis of 1913-1915.

In 1933 he confided to Pierre Courthion that in his opinion young artists let themselves be absorbed by the world, "while later it is the need to express an emotion that leads the painter to choose such and such a motif as a starting point". His goal is not so much to show the object through its sensitivity (art must go beyond the raw impression ("the model we have in front of our eyes") to aim at the sensation, which is an enriched mental image ("the model we have in our head").

According to him, if he tries to paint directly, for example, a bouquet of roses, he is quickly overwhelmed by the sight of the details, gets lost in them, and "lets himself paint roses" without finding what had seduced him at first. The paradox is, in his own words, that the object and "what can be called beauty" inspired the idea of the painting, but that their presence risks making him lose it: he must fight against the influence of the external model to make his inner model prevail. According to him, rare are the painters able to preserve their vision without being disturbed by the object: after Titian, Cézanne; but neither Monet, who spent little time in front of the motif, nor Pissarro or Seurat, who composed in the studio.

Bonnard wanted to find the truth of the feeling experienced in front of the object but was afraid of weakening in front of it and forgetting his initial idea: this is why he resorted to drawing, codifying the values and analyzing the relationships between the tones, the effect of each on the others, their combinations. "Drawing is sensation, color is reasoning": it is not by bravado that he reverses the academic equation linking emotion and color, drawing and thought, but to solve a difficulty. Antoine Terrasse speaks of a "primordial exchange for him between look and reflection".

Bonnard's ambition was to "reconcile the emotions aroused by the spectacle of nature with the decorative requirements of the canvas".

Maurice Denis considered it to be "a flat surface covered with colors in a certain order assembled"; in the same way Bonnard affirms that "the main subject is the surface, which has its color, its laws, over the objects". Permanently marked by the Nabis principles, he keeps an interest for the "floating world" of prints, frontality and flatness. However, seeing the painting as a flat decorative object contradicts the taste for nature in this painter attached to figurative art: hence a perpetual tension in his work between surface (decorative) and depth (plausible).

Juxtaposed planes without perspective, stylization and absence of modelling, the impression of a collage of printed fabrics, these are the characteristics of his Japanese-style canvases from before 1900: everything is almost flat and forces the eye to scan the surface without being able to find a vanishing point. Although Bonnard later abandoned these techniques, he continued to erase depth and to bring the planes down to the surface - like Matisse.

Terrace, balustrade or trees in the foreground of a landscape will block the flight of the eye despite the depth of field. The checkerboard motif "helps to construct the surface as a surface": present in the corsages of the 1890s and then in the checkered tablecloths, it gives way to the table itself, sometimes straightened in a way that is almost parallel to the plane of the painting. As for the mirror, if it opens an escape on the volume of the room, it also collects it in the space of its vertical frame. Until the end of his life, Bonnard squares his paintings in a more or less apparent manner. In particular, he structured his interiors with orthogonal motifs. The overhanging viewpoint accentuates the effect of verticality, as in L'Atelier au mimosa seen from his mezzanine, while flat tints of color reaffirm the flatness.

"The primacy of the surface in turn requires that the viewer's attention be dispersed over the entire surface of the canvas."

Some of the framings are surprising (plunging, counter-plunging, unexpected angles, cropped figures), some figures are barely perceptible, projected as shadows, half-hidden by an object: this is because too flattering a composition would harm the impression of a snapshot. Bonnard organizes his scenes rigorously, but not all the details are immediately apparent: the question arises as to what exactly he wants to show.

"Bonnard's paintings are afocal, the gaze swirls around at first glance without really being able to stop on one point more than another." Very early on Bonnard incorporated what he called "mobile" or "variable" vision, that is, the fact that everything solicits the gaze. He was one of the first to try to represent on canvas "the integrity of the visual field", that is to say that there is no privileged point of view and that the world exists around us as much as under our eyes.

In his paintings perspective is not fixed. Any vanishing point creates depth but limits the visual field, whereas binocular vision allows one to see what is on the sides as well: Bonnard extends his attention to everything, and brings to the eye what classical perspective kept away. Jean Clair compares his paintings to a sheet of crumpled paper flattened by hand: space unfolds from the center to the periphery, where the figures are slightly distorted as if by anamorphosis.

It has been noted that Bonnard's paintings are often built around a kind of void, which plays a structural, chromatic and distributive role. Thus the recurring motif of the table: it reminds us that the painting is a flat surface; it reinforces the chiaroscuro or illuminates the colors if the tablecloth is white; and it rejects the characters all around, so that the eye is first drawn to the objects. In Bonnard's work, "a bowl is worth a face," as Jean Cassou noted, but the viewer is obliged to go from one to the other; to stop at the subject would be to lose sight of the goal: "to bring the painting to the fore by making the eye circulate."

From the turn of the century "the history of Bonnard's painting becomes that of a decisive progression of color".

His encounter with Gauguin, the Nabis and Japanese art convinced Bonnard of the infinite expressive potential of color, even without recourse to values. He declared that he had also learned a great deal from his experience as a lithographer, which obliged him to "study tonal relationships by playing with only four or five colors that are superimposed or brought together". Values made a comeback in 1895: he made extensive use of chiaroscuro in his portraits as well as in his street and family scenes.

It is the Nude against the light (or L'Eau de Cologne, or Le Cabinet de toilette au canapé rose) that would date his true "entry into the path of color", as his nephew Charles Terrasse wrote, in the sense that he would have experienced for the first time "the possibility of using color as an equivalent of light": The latter is no longer translated into chiaroscuro, as the window does not cut out a dark and a lighted area; the whole scene is bathed in an equal light, rendered by the tints and values even where there is a cast shadow. Bonnard's infatuation with the South will reinforce his quest for a "chromatic equivalent of the intensity of light".

Although he said he feared "the trap of colors" and the risk of "painting only for the palette", color became less imitative and more plastic for Bonnard after the crisis of 1913. As with Matisse and Vuillard, what counts is no longer the accuracy of the colors in relation to the model but their relationship to each other, which creates both space and atmosphere in addition to harmony. "I agree with you," he wrote to Matisse in 1935, "the only solid ground of the painter is the palette and the tones."

His palette became increasingly vivid during the 1920s and 1930s. Flashes of yellow or orange illuminate his paintings and, in the interior scenes in particular, white is used alongside bright colors for greater luminosity. "It is no longer the light that strikes the objects, but the objects that seem to radiate from themselves. His last paintings are flooded with a golden light and a photograph of his studio in Le Cannet in 1946 shows pinned to the wall the small pieces of silver paper that he used to gauge the intensity of the light.

More than his subjects in themselves or his personal feelings, it is the combination and brilliance of his colors that allow us to see Bonnard as the "painter of joy", in that they help him express a sensation of pleasure.

"The painting is a series of spots that link together", wrote Bonnard: color is for him the engine of the composition.

Once he had sketched out his subject, Bonnard studied each part in isolation, occasionally redrawing the elements one by one. He then began to paint, first using very diluted colors, then thicker, opaque pastes. He works within the color patches delimited by the motifs, and the subject can remain confused for a long time in the eyes of the spectator, reports Félix Fénéon. Once the forms have emerged, Bonnard stops referring to the sketch and rests touches from time to time, sometimes with his finger.

Even if he still uses flat tints, his technique, under the influence of Impressionism and perhaps of the Byzantine mosaics seen in Venice, has evolved towards the multiplication of small, "blurred, tight, vivid" touches. The abundance of dappled colors from the moment he moved away from the Nabis proves the impact on his painting of his friendship with the Monet of the Water Lilies. The fact that he navigated between several canvases, either carried out at the same time or left aside for a while, allowed the oils to dry and the painter to superimpose the colors to modify the harmonies.

He may have used plates as a palette, one per canvas, as a chromatic scheme could more easily emerge. If Watkins sees his art as essentially "full of antitheses and contrasts", with a predilection for the structuring triangle violet-green-orange, Roque nuances a little: Bonnard, after having played with contrasts between complementary colors, explored little by little the agreements of close colors on the chromatic circle (red-orange

The canvas is constructed by shifts in color that can erase perspective: the color scheme follows its own logic and not the observation of nature. Bonnard occasionally uses color, including black and white, to balance the composition. In particular, he takes care of the top and bottom of the painting, accentuating the intense colors and using structural elements (windows, doors, bathtub ledges) to contain the eye and bring it back to the canvas. "Color does not add an amenity to the design, it strengthens it," he wrote.

The way in which Bonnard renewed the genre of the female nude is representative of what he sought in painting.

He approached the nude between realism and stylization with La Baignade. Soon, apart from the innocent sensuality of pastoral compositions, he exploited the classical iconography of sexual pleasure (black stockings, crumpled sheets) to reinvent paintings with a strong erotic charge. L'Indolente, seen from above on a bed that looks like a battlefield, invites pleasure or has just experienced it; La Sieste suggests the voluptuousness of the moment: André Gide praised the soft colors and lights of the familiar setting where rests, on a bed in disorder, a woman holding by its pose of the Borghese Hermaphrodite.

Bonnard then explored the traditional theme of the toilet, which he had seen depicted in particular by Edgar Degas in series exhibited during the 1910s. Repeatedly taking up this subject, he went from canvas to canvas as if he were touring the bathroom. Some of Martha's slightly posed shots must have been used for scenes that seem to be the confidence of an intimate moment caught on the fly. The tightening of the compositions around the model evokes Degas, but the approach is less crude than in his work, emphasizes Bertrand Tillier: the unacademic or even awkward postures do not seem immodest, the unusual angles emanate from a gaze that wants to remain discreet. In the mirror of the Nude against the light, an empty chair can be seen where the painter should have been placed.

To a naturalist (subjects) and impressionist (instantaneous vision) inspiration, Bonnard adds the art of more or less enigmatic suggestion dear to the symbolist Mallarmé, whose poems he admired. It sometimes takes the eye a few moments to locate the mirror, the model and the reflection. During his last twenty years, the painter revisited the Western motif of the bather: Marthe "dips" regularly, as Olivier Renault says, and the bathtub, which adds an enamelled surface to those of the tiles and the water, ends up looking like a sarcophagus where this modern Ophelia seems to be drowned.

In his quest to recall sensation, Bonnard wished to "establish an aesthetic of movements and gestures", even to the point of neglecting, in certain barely modeled forms, the "floating" of a body in water. Translating the floating of a body in water by a slight distortion, of the leg for example (Nude in the bath with the little dog), seems to obey this idea that he also noted: "Many small lies for a great truth."

"His "interiors" and still lifes arise quite naturally from the perpetual journey around his room that is his activity as an artist," writes Adrien Goetz about Bonnard.

The universe of the house is a privileged field for this painter of the memory who almost never leaves to work. He pursues his interior and pictorial quest from the dining room to the living room, from the bathroom to the balcony or the garden, from where he can see the panorama. His interiors, repeated from one canvas to the next, are an abstraction in that they do not show everyday anecdotes but a timeless vision of the existence that takes place there. Martha often appears in them, even if she is reduced in a kind of presence-absence to a shadow, a head or a silhouette cut in a corner; but these testimonies of conjugal life are above all geometric and scenic constructions.

Circles and ovals with "soft" contours break the horizontal and vertical lines that frame and square the scene, creating interlocking spaces. The Red Checked Tablecloth of 1910 is less a portrait of Martha and her dog Black than "the inclusion of a circle in a square, in perspective, and the chromatic division of this circle into small red and white squares. In White Interior, the eye neglects the seascape visible through the window or Martha leaning towards the cat: it follows above all the nested rectangles formed by the overlapping chimney, door, radiator, corner of the windows, corner of the table. As for the mirror device, its inclination can introduce a game allowing to see objects or characters invisible from the painter's point of view.

Bonnard practiced still life for its own sake, painting bouquets of flowers and fruit. His compositions are in some ways in line with Chardin and even more so with Cézanne for the rigor: The Compotier of 1924 particularly highlights the fact that "Bonnard also appropriates the world by the cylinder and the sphere", and that with him also "the fruit becomes color and color becomes fruit".

Often the still life becomes the foreground around which the canvas is organized. In the many paintings depicting a table in front of a window, such as the 1935 Dining Room in the Country, the surface supporting the objects seems like a springboard to the outside. The painter glides from one canvas to another without really changing space, and his interiors become "places of motionless escape".

Bonnard is perhaps a man of gardens more than of landscapes, and of familiar nature more than of virgin spaces.

If he was attracted by the changing skies of the north, he was fascinated by the architectural nature of Mediterranean vegetation: in the former, his main concern was to translate the variations of time, while the permanence of the southern climate led him, even outside the large decorative panels, to evoke visions of a classical Golden Age. He shares with other former Nabis, such as Maurice Denis, the desire to reactivate Greek myths: he adds to this, from the 1910s, the desire to avoid the chromatic and thematic austerity of the Cubists; his landscapes, mixing cold and warm tones, are populated with more or less mysterious figures, sometimes tiny or barely sketched out.

They are above all saturated with color, even treated, according to Nicholas Watkins, in the manner of a tapestry: thus the Autumn Landscape, the trees of the Côte d'Azur with their woolly texture, or many gardens and landscapes whose perspective leads not to a point of view but to colored masses. "Whatever its degree of abstraction, nature according to Bonnard is always a scene whose scenery changes at sight" and which is constructed from the color.

Bonnard became interested in the motif of the window shortly after Matisse, who in 1905 renewed this theme inherited from the nineteenth century, explaining that he could bring together in a painting the interior and the exterior since they were one in his sensation. Bonnard kept a more naturalistic vision but unified the spaces by means of color and light that he let in through large openings. Thus, in The Dining Room in the Country painted in 1913, the brightness of the garden invades the room, tinting the door with green and the tablecloth with blue, which radiates light instead of reflecting the red of the walls; this red - which was indeed the color of the dining room in "Ma Roulotte" - is found in Marthe's dress, which is itself the link between inside and outside. Similar color references between inside and outside can be seen in The Open Door at Vernon.

What is most beautiful in a museum," Bonnard once said while visiting the Louvre, "are the windows. The Dining Room on the Garden, painted in 1930 in Arcachon, offers a true summary of his art: the table in perspective and the discreet stripes of the tablecloth form the architectural basis of the window and its balustrade, while the apparently disordered elements of a breakfast set the tone for the whole; the window opens onto the garden outside, unless it invites it into the room; the painting ultimately brings together three subjects: still life, interior, landscape.

Bonnard was as reluctant to paint himself as an artist as he was to paint portraits of his loved ones.

After the self-portrait of 1889, Pierre Bonnard waited for maturity to represent himself. The Self-Portrait of the Artist by Himself, the only one to be dated and to refer by its title to his activity, is an avowed reference in his notebooks to Chardin's Portrait at the Easel, which he had just seen again at an exhibition. However, in addition to the inversion of the composition, the tools of creation have disappeared, except for an empty canvas hanging on the wall; the eyes are as if fogged up behind the glasses and the clenched fist is not ready to paint: Pierre Bonnard seems to be closing in on himself and his intimate pains. In the same way, in the later paintings, whose yellow backgrounds contrast with the melancholy of the expression, the mirror is a screen that authenticates the model while putting him at a distance, and the eyes - organs of pictorial creation - gradually fade away until they become black, blind orbits in the last self-portrait.

Among the anonymous portraits, some revisit classical motifs, the letter or the thinker, for example. When it comes to painting his friends, Bonnard seems to feel a conflict between his vision and the concern for likeness. Although he always worked in his studio, he first multiplied in his notebook drawings of his subjects, made at home or in the setting that helped to identify their personality and social status. Thus the Bernheim brothers in their box at the opera or in the vast office adjoining their gallery. Bonnard also painted Ambroise Vollard under his paintings, with his cat, in the painting entitled Ambroise Vollard, and then twenty years later in the Portrait of Ambroise Vollard with a Cat. For his large portrait of her in 1908, he placed Misia Godebska in his salon on the Quai Voltaire, in front of one of the ornamental panels he had made for her.

The engraved work

Pierre Bonnard was first noticed for his talents as a draftsman and engraver: in addition to a dozen advertising posters, he produced many lithographs in the 1890s and never completely abandoned engraving.

In the lithographed poster for France-Champagne in 1891, the limited number of colors and the use of letters drawn and rounded with a brush rather than printed characters are attractive. While Félix Fénéon criticized the yellow background, Octave Mirbeau felt that it reinvented the art of lithography: it was upon seeing it that Toulouse-Lautrec decided to take up lithography as well - Bonnard led him to Ancourt, his printer.

His drawings with their new rhythms and subtle harmonies were influenced by his membership in the Nabis group, who used pure tones and arbitrary lines in their quest for decorative applications of paint. His expressive simplifications, in the Family Scenes for example, are also influenced by the Japanese prints seen at the Beaux-Arts in 1890: use of black, "asymmetrical composition, close-up figures on a monochrome background, and concise lines whose full and loose lines suggest modeling. But unlike the Japanese, Bonnard was constantly renewing himself.

From three he goes to four, five, even six or seven colors. His line receives the same influences as his painting while adapting to the subject: the flat tints or Japanese checkerboard patterns are found in family scenes such as in Le Paravent des Nourrices; if La Petite Blanchisseuse surprises by its stiffness, his taste for movement pushes Bonnard to lighten the lines in the very vivid and dynamic lithographs that decorate the Petites Scènes familières of his brother-in-law Claude Terrasse; the drawing becomes "supple and voluptuous" in the collection Parallèlement de Verlaine, but less precise, proceeding by confused masses, to represent the tiers of a racetrack or rows of trees.

Bonnard is distinguished by the small number of states realized before the final print: he prepares it by numerous sketches in pen, pencil and watercolor. Drawing a lesson from each experience, he says he learned a lot for his painting from the rigor imposed by the engraving processes and the limited play of tones of lithography. Illustration interests him from an artistic point of view without losing its commercial and democratic aspect. In 1893 he dreamed of "executing a lithograph at his own expense, followed by several others if there was a way" and to spread them in Paris at a modest price: "It is the painting of the future", he wrote then.

Links are created between the prints and the paintings, the subjects being the same and certain parts taken up, transposed: L'Indolente from the 1899 painting reappears among the lithographed illustrations of Parallèlement (1900), the bestiary of Daphnis and Chloe (1902) in a landscape painted in the following years, certain details and the liveliness of the city canvases in Quelques aspects de la vie de Paris - a series which, along with the prints intended for the Albums des peintres-graveurs, marks the beginning of the long collaboration with Ambroise Vollard.

The different elements of the compositions are also linked in such a way that, as in the paintings, "the relationship between the objects and the surface of the picture as a whole is more important than the description of these objects". Bonnard seeks to bring the viewer closer to the subject matter drawn from his personal experiences, while leaving him to interpret what is only suggested. Apart from the nostalgic Edenic visions and humorous family scenes, street scenes and popular characters captured on the spot ensure the success of his graphic and pictorial productions during this decade.

In 1909 Bonnard began to work with etching, a process that pushed him to be even more rigorous in his drawing. In this way he illustrated Dingo by Octave Mirbeau and Sainte Monique by Vollard. If his small landscapes of Dingo are of a great finesse, he will experiment little with this technique. After 1923, his lithographs became more serious: he was more interested in light, in the understanding of beings and things. Retired to Le Cannet in 1939, he was mainly inspired by interiors and surrounding landscapes. In 1942, Louis Carré commissioned Bonnard to produce drawings in gouache, of which Jacques Villon, in constant collaboration with him, printed 80 numbered lithographs until 1946.

In his catalog raisonné, Bouvet compiles a total of 525 prints, of which Watkins counts 250 lithographs. However, these dominate in a fairly dense engraved oeuvre, and in two of the three works that Bonnard illustrated most lavishly, Parallèlement and Daphnis et Chloé. As for the Aspects de la vie de Paris, they prove the extent to which the engraved work joins the painted work in terms of the "immediate notation of an emotion". "The course of the engraved work is not distinct from the course of the painted work; it marries it, completes it and, at certain moments, reinforces it," summarizes Antoine Terrasse.

Whether series or illustrations, Bonnard's engraved work is remarkable for its varied ensembles, some of which contain a good number of prints.

Twenty lithographs in black (including the cover) adorning an album of music by his brother-in-law Claude Terrasse.

For the performances of Ubu roi at the Théâtre des Pantins co-founded by Claude Terrasse, Alfred Jarry and Franc-Nohain, Bonnard not only participates in the realization of puppets and murals but also composes, in black, the covers of six songs, representing himself in the drawing entitled La Vie du peintre.

This suite of thirteen color plates exhibited at Ambroise Vollard was printed in an edition of 100 in 1899. Several lithographs take up subjects already dealt with in the paintings: the scene of Street Corner is found in the left panel of the triptych Aspects of Paris; details of House in the Courtyard are similar to those of Roofs; Street, in the Evening, in the Rain and Street Corner from Above are comparable to Place Pigalle, at Night and Narrow Street of Paris respectively.

For Verlaine's collection, Bonnard produced 109 lithographs and 9 drawings (woodcuts by Tony Beltrand). Two hundred copies of the work were printed and numbered on various media - China paper, vellum of Holland -, the lithographs being printed in sanguine pink. "Bonnard invents an irregular composition; the lithographs play with the stanzas, embrace them, mingle with them or slip into the margins, voluptuous and tender images whose power of suggestion is miraculously combined with the poet's art. However, the book was not successful when it was published in September 1900. It was criticized for its freedom of composition, its unusual format, and the very process of lithography, which was still preferred to wood engraving. These lithographs, "which Cézanne said were 'drawn in form,' overflow the justification and trickle into the margins, pink as the first light of day, forever marking in the history of the book the dawn of the 20th century." Bonnard was inspired in particular by his nudes, photographing his companion for his preparatory drawings; he was also influenced by Watteau's characters (Gilles, Assembly in a Park, Embarkation for Cythera, Gersaint's Sign) for the scenes of the 18th century.

Very satisfied with their collaboration, Ambroise Vollard turned to Bonnard again for this pastoral. The 146 lithographs in black, light blue or grey are again published on several supports (japon paper, chine, vellum of Holland). The painter adopts this time a unique rectangular format, avoiding monotony thanks to the variation of the subjects or their interpretation. He says that he created these scenes "more classical, a kind of happy fever that carried me away despite myself. In contrast to the Some Aspects of Parisian Life, it is the characters of Daphnis and Chloe that will later be included in his paintings.

For Octave Mirbeau's novel Dingo, Bonnard produces 55 etchings and a few heliogravures. Vollard published the 350 copies on the various supports of the previous works. It should be noted that "fifty suites of the out-of-text plates were printed separately, on old Japanese paper, under a title sheet signed by the artist, and in a format larger than that of the book.

Vollard asked Bonnard to illustrate his book La vie de sainte Monique: printed in 300 copies, this one incorporates very different mediums since it counts 29 lithographs, 17 etchings and 178 woodcuts, to "adapt," declares Bonnard, "to the rhythm of the text and to break with the monotony of a uniform process throughout the work. Mixing techniques in this way is very rare and Vollard gave a lot of thought to how to achieve a certain homogeneity, placing only the lithographs outside the text. This series started around 1920 would have taken ten years to be published.

For Le crépuscule des nymphes by Pierre Louÿs, published by Pierre Tisné, Bonnard produces 24 lithographs. The first thirty of the one hundred and twenty copies include a suite of numbered lithographs on China paper.

Modernity and posterity

After Bonnard's death, a debate arose about his modernity: that he was "attached to Impressionism can be an asset or, on the contrary, a weakness" in the eyes of those who sought to define his place and importance in the history of art. The controversy continues without preventing the work from being appreciated both by the public and by certain contemporary painters.

During the exhibition that took place from October to December 1947 at the Musée de l'Orangerie, the critic Christian Zervos titled the editorial of his magazine Cahiers d'art: "Is Pierre Bonnard a great painter? - in short, a modern.

Like Apollinaire before him, Zervos saw in Bonnard's work a pleasant and easily accessible painting, which without upsetting the established tradition allowed the general public to believe that it understood modern art. Considering that pictorial art was regenerated in the 20th century only by fighting against Impressionism, which was embodied by Henri Matisse on the one hand and the Cubists on the other, the critic reproached Bonnard for remaining a neo-Impressionist overwhelmed by what he felt: he denied him any power or genius. Matisse, reading this, would have raged: "Yes, I certify that Pierre Bonnard is a great painter for today and surely for the future. Like Picasso, who said that he did not want to be touched by Bonnard, Zervos was unaware of Bonnard's path, intentions and method: he imagined him on the ground, applying his colors according to what he saw, without asserting any vision.

For several decades, Bonnard's painting continued to be perceived as a somewhat anachronistic extension of Impressionism. Close friends of the painter, critics and artists tried to show the complexity of his work without always taking it out of this framework. Pierre Francastel underlines that it is this filiation which made him accepted by critics with rather classical tastes, and Maurice Raynal estimates that he ensured the passage towards contemporary art. Claude Roger-Marx situates him by his imagination closer to Odilon Redon than to Vuillard, while André Lhote finds a place for him in modern art by placing him with Marc Chagall on the side of the naive painters. As for the American art critic Clement Greenberg, he sees Bonnard as a more innovative heir to Impressionism than his subjects would lead one to believe, and as an almost major painter in that he was able to renew without heckling the vein from which he came.

Difficult to classify, Bonnard's work seems to have crystallized ideological struggles. When Balthus declared in 1954 that he preferred Bonnard to Matisse, according to Georges Roque, he adopted the position of those who refused to make Matisse and Picasso the two sacred monsters of modernism, and even wished to oppose a new realism to cubism and abstract art. Roque wonders if it is not "against painters like Bonnard by the very gesture of excluding him (and others) that the narrative of modern art would have been constituted", at least that of a cubism already on the decline: according to his analysis, the status of modern painter that refused to Bonnard the supporters of cubism was paradoxically going to be granted to him by the partisans of the abstract art. As early as 1924, Claude Roger-Marx saw a link between the end of Cubism, a renewal of sensitivity, and the discovery of Bonnard.

Bonnard became interested in abstraction and increasingly in painting for its own sake.

Knowing it poorly, he viewed abstract painting negatively because it seemed to him to be cut off from reality, "a compartment of art" in which he did not wish to be enclosed. He nevertheless noted in his notebooks: "Color has the power of abstraction", or "the abstract is a departure" - which Roque likens to "the model in your head". Towards the end of his life, he told Jean Bazaine that when he was younger, he would have worked in this direction. A painting such as Corner of the Table gives the impression that he has indeed freed himself from reality by letting himself be carried away by the colors; the same is true for certain portions of paintings such as The Mimosa Workshop. Bazaine, dissociating the question of abstraction from that of figuration, admires Bonnard's work as a purely plastic artist and his exaltation of color, not as a gratuitous game but as an equivalent of reality which, combined with equally transfigured forms, reconnects with it.

A little later, the English painter Patrick Heron observed that the influence of Picasso on the Europeans of his generation declined in favor of that of Matisse and Bonnard. He notes in many of them (Maurice Estève, Gustave Singier, Alfred Manessier, Serge Rezvani, François Arnal) what they owe to the "abstract elements" of Bonnard, and distinguishes in the latter the subjects they treated, inherited from the nineteenth century, from their plastic treatment, always new and surprising. Finally, while the exact influence of Bonnard on contemporary American art and the current of abstract expressionism (Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Sam Francis) has yet to be determined, Jean Clair discerns, for example, in Mark Rothko's large chromatic fields of saturated and flat colors that are reminiscent of Matisse but also of Bonnard.

Although he was not interested in theories, Bonnard was not "an empirical painter, painting by instinct". Along with the Nabis, he contributed to bringing painting out of its conventional "framework" and into the everyday. The century was also about the subversion or even the agony of the subject to the benefit of the pictorial work itself. Far from being a stranger to this upheaval, Bonnard practiced, according to Ann Hindry, "a reflexive painting, which looks at itself" through the multiple variations of narrowed subjects: the painter has no other preoccupations than adjustments, sometimes minute, of composition or palette; "the anodyne subject is only a pretext to explore the painting", to the point where it becomes its own object. To Picasso's critics Bonnard replied: "We always talk about submission to nature. There is also submission before the painting.

"I hope that my painting will last, without cracks. I would like to arrive before the young painters of the year 2000 with butterfly wings", Bonnard wished at the end of his life.

From 1947 onwards, his work traveled to the Netherlands and Scandinavia, before being shown at the Musée de l'Orangerie from October to December, and then in Cleveland and New York. From then on, she was regularly exhibited in Europe as well as in North America, from the exhibition "Bonnard and his Environment" which in 1964-1965 went from MoMA to Chicago and Los Angeles, to the forty or so paintings, not counting prints and photographs, presented from October 2016 to January 2017 at the Pierre-Lassonde Pavilion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

Since the mid-1960s, it is to Bonnard's grand-nephew Antoine Terrasse that France owes the greatest number of monographs on his paintings, drawings, photographs and correspondence. After the exhibitions "Pierre Bonnard: Centenary of his birth" at the Orangerie (January-April 1967) and "Bonnard and his light" at the Maeght Foundation (July-September 1975), a major retrospective was held at the Centre Georges-Pompidou from February 23 to May 21, 1984, which was later exported to Washington and Dallas: it illustrated "the journey of a surprisingly solitary painter and his echo in a century in which he did not espouse any of the major collective movements.

In 2006, the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris reopened its doors after renovations with an exhibition on ninety Bonnard paintings, "L'Œuvre d'art : un arrêt du temps" (The Work of Art: A Stopping Place for Time), from February 2 to May 7. From April 1 to July 3, 2011, the Musée des Impressionismes Giverny will be organizing an exhibition on "Bonnard in Normandy".

In 2015, the Musée d'Orsay - holder, with eighty paintings, of the largest Bonnard collection in the world - intends to show the coherence and originality of this work spread over six decades: the exhibition "Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia" attracts more than 500,000 visitors from March 17 to July 19. From November 22, 2016 to April 2, 2017, 25 paintings and 94 drawings by Bonnard from the collection of Zeïneb and Jean-Pierre Marcie-Rivière are on view alongside works by Vuillard.

On July 25, 2011, the first museum dedicated to Pierre Bonnard opened in Le Cannet in a renovated 1900s townhouse. Since 2003, when the city council voted for the project, which was validated in 2006 by the Direction des Musées de France, the city has continued to enrich the collection through purchases, donations and deposits, both private and public. As a partner of Orsay, the Musée Bonnard also organizes exhibitions in line with his work.

Bonnard reached a certain value on the art market. In 1999, Daniel Wildenstein estimated the value of his paintings at between 500,000 and 2 million dollars, and up to 7 million for the largest ones. In 2015, in Fontainebleau, two paintings by Bonnard created the surprise by flying away at auction at nearly one million euros each.

Overview of the works

: document used as a source for the writing of this article.


  1. Pierre Bonnard
  2. Pierre Bonnard
  3. Actuelle rue Estienne-d'Orves[5].
  4. Administration des formalités fiscales de certains actes juridiques[14].
  5. Ce nom a remplacé pour la postérité le titre initial du tableau[21].
  6. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica on-line
  7. ^ Cogebal, Guy, Bonnard, p. 8
  8. ^ Cogeval, Guy, Bonnard (2015), p. 148
  9. ^ Cogeval, Guy, Bonnard (2015), p. 8
  10. Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη της Γερμανίας: (Γερμανικά, Αγγλικά) Gemeinsame Normdatei. Ανακτήθηκε στις 10  Δεκεμβρίου 2014.
  11. Integrált katalógustár (német és angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2014. április 9.)
  12. Kunstindeks Danmark (dán és angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2017. október 9.)
  13. Integrált katalógustár (német és angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2014. december 10.)
  14. a b Nagy szovjet enciklopédia (1969–1978), Боннар Пьер, 2017. február 25.
  15. a b RKDartists (holland nyelven)

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