January 31, 2009

Pierre Bonnard, The Met and Le Cannet

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) can be considered one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated artists of the 20th Century. Classified as a founding member of Les Nabis (Hebrew for "Prophet") a group whose style was influenced by symbolism and spiritualism, Bonnard came of age at a time of great social and artistic turmoil that saw the birth of anarchistic movements like Dada and Surrealism. Bonnard's beautifully colored landscapes and interiors did not fit with his contemporaries' idea of revolution and his work was derided as being bourgeois, copy-cat Impressionism, or to quote Pablo Picasso "...a potpourri of indecision".

Bonnard was born into a wealthy family and obeyed his father's wish that he study law, earning his degree at the age of 21. However the pull of art, and the artist's life, proved too strong to resist and he changed the course of his life by following his heart and enrolling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It did not take long for him to be able to support himself through his art and smooth his escape from the middle class existence he so dreaded.

Typically, Bonnard painted familiar scenes, interiors and street scenes, peopled by those he knew, in a rainbow of delicious color applied with small brushstrokes. But the real beauty in his work is that the more one looks, the less one sees. Figures are often pushed to the side, or seem to fade out of the scene. One questions what one is viewing - what seems like a straightforward table setting is in fact much more.

Thanks to several exhibitions in recent years, notably at the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the work of Pierre Bonnard has found a new, and far more appreciative audience. His depictions of his wife Marthe, a chronic depressive to whom he was utterly devoted, lying in her bathtub, became almost the iconic Bonnard image. Now, thanks to an exhibition that has just opened at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the public will be introduced to another fascinating aspect of Bonnard's œuvre. "Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors" focus' entirely on works created in his later years - the years he and Marthe spent in "Le Bosquet" their house in the South of France.

Which brings me to the last part of this blog's title. The town of Le Cannet, located near Cannes, used the occasion of this exhibition at The Met to announce the founding of a new museum entirely devoted to Pierre Bonnard and last Tuesday I was invited to a lovely reception at the French Embassy to celebrate this cultural landmark. Also in attendance were the Mayor of Le Cannet and members of Bonnard's family who joyfully proclaimed the French Government's commitment to the project and the designation of "Musée de France" the national status accorded to such institutions as the Louvre and other cultural treasures. Scheduled to open in 2010, the Musée Bonnard in Le Cannet will honor its most famous resident in a beautifully renovated villa with exhibition and educational facilities.

"The Dining Room in the Country", 1930

Pierre Bonnard died at the age of 80, still painting in his traditional style. It is a sad fact that it took decades for his genius to be recognized, but some things are worth the wait. Thanks to major museum shows Bonnard's work has become much more known and appreciated and his status as a major artist of the 20th Century confirmed. Thanks to the efforts of the City of Le Cannet, the French Riviera will gain a new cultural institution and the legacy of Bonnard will be honored in a manner befitting his stature as an artist. A whole new reason to visit the South of France!!


Margie said...

Bonnard - my favorite. I remember a show in NYC some years ago that paired Bonnard with Rothko - out of this world. Margie

Rodney said...

I'm happy to read this review mentioning the new Bonnard museum in Le Cannet. I recently visited a Bonnard exhibition in Wuppertal (Germany, site: www.bonnard-ausstellung.de) and read in a brochure about it, but now I have more references. My visit to the mentioned exhibition inspired me to do a Bonnard-style watercolour myself. Perhaps you'd like to check it out. rodneyvdb.blogspot.com/2010/09/toast-to-bonnard.html

Kind regards, Rodney