Pierre Bonnard

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early 'Self-portrait', by Pierre Bonnard - painted in 1889

Pierre Bonnard (3 October 1867 — 23 January 1947) was a French painter and print-maker, as well as a founding member of the Post-Impressionist group Les Nabis. Bonnard preferred to work from memory, using drawings as his reference for painting; The intimate domestic scenes, for which he is perhaps best known, often include his wife Marthe de Méligny.


Bonnard, 1909: 'Nude', oil-painting
Bonnard, 1920: 'Paysage Normand', oil on canvas
Bonnard, 1922: 'Striped blouse' (his wife Marthe Bonnard), oil-painting
Bonnard, 1940: 'The Dessert', oil on canvas
  • I work in the mornings and in the afternoons I go to the Latin Quarter. It is a long way from the Batignolles district to the Pantheon: Fortunately there is the Metro. It amuses me to see the people squashed together, and among them are some pretty faces which I draw in the evenings, from memory, in my sketchbook.
    • letter to his grandmother, c. 1883; as cited in Pierre Bonnard, by John Rewald; MoMA -distribution, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1918, p. 12 (note 1)
  • My first pictures were done by instinct, the others with more method perhaps. Instinct which nourishes method can often be superior to a method which nourishes instinct.
    • quoted by his brother-in-law Claude Terrasse, in 'Introduction' of Pierre Bonnard, John Rewald; MoMA - distribution Simon & Schuster, New York, 1918
  • I should have sent you news of myself long ago, for I know how much pleasure one derives from a letter during one's first days in the regiment. One needs it to be reminded that one is something more than a registered number and that in the past one's existence was different from that of beast. Anyway that is how I felt about the army. I was unable to connect my present existence with my former life as a civilian.. ..Here [in Paris in his studio in La Rue Pigalle] I am leading a studious and quite exemplary life.. .I am working on an important picture which is progressing well and which will be exhibited, I hope, at the [Salon des] 'Indépendants. In addition I am planning to do a screen which will also be shown at the exhibition. Otherwise nothing is happening. I may go with Vuillard to see a music publisher, but I do not expect any success as yet in that direction. I have abandoned chromolithography (ouf!) for the moment, but I shall take it up again whenever I feel impelled to interrupt my oil painting, in order to vary my pleasure's.
    • in his letter to Lugné-Poë, End of 1890; as quoted in Pierre Bonnard, by John Rewald; MoMA - distribution, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1918, p. 17 - note 11
    • Lugné-Poe was just called then in the French army; Bonnard had left the army already, c. one year ago
  • I have all my subjects to hand. I go back and look at them. I take notes. Then I go home. And before I start painting I reflect, I dream.
    • quoted in Bonnard; by Sarah Witfield and John Elderfield; Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, 1998 - ISBN 0-8109-4021-3, p. 9
    • Bonnard did not paint from life but rather drew his subject and made notes on the colors. He then painted the canvas in his studio from the sketches and his notes
  • It would bother me if my canvases were stretched onto a frame. I never know in advance what dimensions I am going to choose.
    • Dita Amory, in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors; Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009 - ISBN 978-0-300-14889-3, p. 4
    • Bonnard started to paint usually on an unstretched canvas

Quotes about Pierre Bonnard[edit]

  • Almost invariably he recognizes the precise point where his voluptuousness may be getting out of hand, where he needs to introduce an ironic note. Bonnard's wit has everything to do with the eccentric nature of his compositions. He finds it funny to sneak a figure into a corner, or have a cat staring out at the viewer. His metaphoric caprices have a comic edge, as when he turns a figure into a pattern in the wallpaper. And when he imagines a basket of fruit as a heap of emeralds and rubies and diamonds, he does so with the panache of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
  • Bonnard was the humorist among us; his nonchalant gaiety, his wit was evident in his pictures [many of daily-life in the Paris' streets], in which a kind of satiric quality was always embodied n the decorative spirit.. .Bonnard did not resemble Denis or Vuillard in any way, yet all three approached life with a noble determination which was a god-send to me.
    • Lugné-Poë, in a later writing; as quoted in Pierre Bonnard, by John Rewald; MoMA - distribution, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1918, p. 18 - note 13
    • During 1891-92 Lugné-Poë, together with Denis and Vuillard were working in Bonnard's small Paris' studio in the Rue Pigalle; Lugné-Poë is writing about this period
  • [Bonnard] catches fleeting poses, steals unconscious gestures, crystallises the most transient expressions.
    • Claude Roger-Marx (1893); as cited by Andrew Graham-Dixon, (24 August 2003). ITP 175: The Open Window by Pierre Bonnard', Sunday Telegraph; from Wikipedia: Pierre Bonnard
  • It's not just the colors that radiate in a Bonnard; there's also the heat of mixed emotions, rubbed into smoothness, shrouded in chromatic veils and intensified by unexpected spatial conundrums and by elusive, uneasy figures.
    • Roberta Smith, in 'Bonnard Late in Life, Searching for the Light', The New York Times, January 29, 2009; from Wikipedia: Pierre Bonnard

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