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Pierre Bonnard: The Intimiste
July 27, 2011 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Pierre Bonnard died in 1947, after a lifetime of producing a great many intense and beautiful paintings, in keeping with his philosophy of domestic bliss, idealised and frozen in time if not realised in real life. A calm and intelligent man, he pursued his purpose doggedly and left behind an enduring legacy of visual joy. Surely as great an achievement as any painter could wish for.

The question of Bonnard's "modernity," however, is of no importance when seen against the profound, reflective vision of his work, a vision of such privacy and molecular intensity that it bears comparison with late Monet. ... Sitting as quiet as an old tabby, Bonnard constantly surprised the familiar things in his field of view, cropping them in odd ways, taking them from unexpected angles, and vapourizing them in sudden effulgences of rose, madder, lilac, chrome yellow, viridian, and bright sun-dappled green. The brushwork is loose, knitted and impressionistic, so that the substance of these paintings appears half-formed and ready to vanish back into the light of which it is made. - Robert Hughes
posted by Trurl (17 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by R. Mutt at 7:29 PM on July 27, 2011


From the Paris Review interview of James Salter:

INTERVIEWER

The cover of the North Point edition features Bonnard’s painting The Breakfast Room. That painting seems to capture the atmosphere of the novel.

SALTER

I sometimes write thinking of a certain painter, and I wrote Light Years thinking of Bonnard from the very beginning. He is a painter of intimacy and solitude, he was not part of any school, and his life was spent, generally speaking, away from the brilliance of the lights and out of the mainstream. Not only his pictures but his persona appealed to me.

posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bliss? Joy?

Looks more like mundanity to me.

It looks like a dream of holiday happiness, rhyming bonheur with Bonnard. A breakfast in the South sumptuously laid out, with sun-flecked creamer and a gilded sugar bowl and an empty teacup waiting at the foot of the table, just for you.

First of all, blecch, and secondly, it's a table set for one. This is not a picture of happiness, but of loneliness.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:37 PM on July 27, 2011


Being alone is not the same as being lonely.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:45 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


"it's a table set for one. This is not a picture of happiness, but of loneliness."

Aw, that's a sad way to look at it. I want to hug you.
posted by HopperFan at 9:00 PM on July 27, 2011


I have recently grown to enjoy Bonnard...but like much art, it is an acquired taste. I did not appreciate jazz until I had listened to African music and early American jazz and swing and bebop and...etc.

It is something peculiar to the 20th/21st century that art-historical knowledge is so important to its appreciation. I know many bristle at this notion, and I agree that art should hit you in the gut and in the heart and in the eye...but the rules of the art game have almost necessitated the idea that familiarity with the artist's philosophical and genre-dependent contextual reality is indispensable to understanding the artist's vision.
posted by kozad at 9:03 PM on July 27, 2011


So glad to see an excellent Bonnard post on the blue. Thanks Trurl.

Katie was my best friend in the 7th grade. I asked her what her favorite painting was and she said Bonnard's Dining Room on the Garden. It made me see another side of Katie's personality, her artistic depth and subtlety.

Decades later, the Metropolitan Museum had a generously large exhibit of Bonnard's paintings. I went in honor of my childhood friend and spent the afternoon ooohing and ahhing. Such colorful serenity, lots of playful, intense light, savoring home, windows, gardens, tablecloths, vases of flowers, porcelain on tables, those undramatic moments that make up a mosaic of deep enjoyment. Intimate interiors. Complicated bliss, one of my favorite states of mind.
posted by nickyskye at 9:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


"it's a table set for one. This is not a picture of happiness, but of loneliness."

If you don't want to be alone, it's loneliness. If you want to be alone, it's solitude.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:25 PM on July 27, 2011


Oooh. I love Bonnard. He was the first non-contemporary artist to grab my attention and hold it since I was otherwise immersing myself in art magazines like Art Forum while in my high school art room. That fascination never let go, despite the fact I'm more than a little "meh" about the majority of impressionist paintings. There's something magical about the way he gets his colors to bounce and the way his multi-layered sections to never go muddy, and the odd sidelong compositions are quirky but the quirkiness never feels forced or kitschy. I wish the online images in the link were a lot better- the paintings lose a lot on the web (also- did anyone else have their browser hijacked by spam when clicking on that abc gallery link?) but if anyone not familiar with his work gets a chance to thumb through a decent coffee table book of his work, or much better yet, see it in person, please do.
posted by stagewhisper at 9:28 PM on July 27, 2011


(ps- the New Rebublic article from 2009 is a very well written piece that truly captures the joy and enchantment I feel while experiencing Bonnard's work)
posted by stagewhisper at 9:34 PM on July 27, 2011


Ooh, thank you for this. I really like Bonnard. I'm especially fond of Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods at the Chicago Art Institute. I have a memory of seeing it as part of a show on the Nabis, but I can't find any reference to the exhibition now, so I probably imagined it.

The La Seine in your first link is lovely.

Thanks!
posted by kristi at 10:11 PM on July 27, 2011


it's a table set for one. This is not a picture of happiness, but of loneliness.

That is a tragic statement that seems to miss the point of much of art and existence.
posted by scody at 10:12 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


(and yeah: Bonnard is awesome. Nice post -- thanks.)
posted by scody at 10:13 PM on July 27, 2011


To echo scody, to be alone is not necessarily to be lonely. Solitude does not preclude joy.

These are lovely and refreshing images, and I anticipate savoring them at length later.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:14 AM on July 28, 2011


The Bonnards at the Phillips Collection are the reason I love visiting DC (well, that and Kramerbooks). I can never decide if The Palm or The Open Window are my favorite.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:05 AM on July 28, 2011


First of all, blecch, and secondly, it's a table set for one. This is not a picture of happiness, but of loneliness.

Um. Yes, you're right, but I don't think you read the entire descriptions (assuming you're referring to the Slate slideshow blurbs). The blurbs mostly began with ironic semi-parody of cliched art language, and then worked their way back to what was really going on in Bonnard's visually deceptive and somewhat odd paintings.
posted by aught at 7:15 AM on July 28, 2011


Ooh, thank you for this. I really like Bonnard. I'm especially fond of Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods at the Chicago Art Institute.

That is an interesting painting but according to the caption it's by Edouard Vuillard, not Pierre Bonnard.
posted by aught at 7:18 AM on July 28, 2011


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