Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory is the first exhibition at the Tate since its previous exhibition twenty years ago. It will be available until the 6th May, so for all those who wish to go, I do recommend to do it soon! Tickets are priced at £18 per adult.
Monet and Matisse are household names, but Bonnard is not an artist I am familiar with. This is why I am so glad there are so many wonderful institutions and curators in London organising exhibitions. There is always an opportunity to build up knowledge in art history. On a side note, have any of you completed short courses in art history? I would be really like to attend one but I don’t know which ones are worthwhile!
My review below has been inspired by Tate’s own blog post on the Eight Essentials to Know About Pierre Bonnard.
History of Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard was born in 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine. He was the son of a prominent official of the French Ministry of War, and upon the insistence of his father, Bonnard studied law at the Sorbonne from 1885 to 1888. Whilst working in a government office, Bonnard attended art classes at École des Beaux-Arts and later transferred to Académie Julian. He became an artist in 1890 sharing a studio in Montmartre with Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard.
Les Nabis & Colours
During the 1890s, Bonnard was a prominent member of Les Nabis, who were a group of artists that saw themselves as prophets of modern art (talk about bigheaded much?!). They favoured a bold yet simplified style of painting. Bonnard was particularly famous for his use of colour, and throughout the exhibition, you will notice the intensity of colours ranging from the very light to the deep and vibrant. A great example of this intensity and one of my favourites is Bathers at the End of the Day (1945). It has been said that he was inspired by the Impressionists, including painters Paul Gaugin, Jean Renoir and Toulouse Lautrec which is definitely evident throughout the exhibition.
Nudes & Bathtubs
Personally, I think one of the greatest influences on Bonnard’s work was his wife Marthe de Méligny. It is nearly impossible to imagine the paintings without Marthe de Méligny, I didn’t count how many paintings or photos were of her, but a majority of the exhibition had her presence.
She was often the inspiration for his paintings of nude women and the many baths. The baths were partly medicinal as Marthe had a tubercular condition and obtained relief from the water. These simple yet intimate moments were some of my favourite paintings by him.
He met Méligny in 1893 and she remained an ever-present subject of his paintings. Defying convention at the time, Bonnard did not marry Marthe until 32 years after they had met. However, this was only after his numerous affairs with younger women, in particular, Renee Monchaty, who tragically took her own life the year Bonnard and Méligny married.
Still Life & Memory
Many of Bonnard’s paintings were of simple everyday life. He was an Intimist and often painted still life and other domestic scenes. He rarely painted from life, most of his paintings would start out as sketches from memory and then he would paint in his studio. This allowed Bonnard to add details and complexity to all his paintings. He was freed from the constraints of the “moment” and could transform his sketches with his imagination. One of my favourite paintings is Coffee (1915), where there is a weird looking dog (he really can’t draw dogs) in the corner of the table perched on this vivid red checkered table cloth. It is so simple yet captivating. I also seem to like paintings of food in general, because The Table (1925) is also one I really liked.
Picasso vs. Matisse
It turns out that Picasso really disliked Bonnard yet Matisse was a fan. When visiting the exhibition, you can understand why there are such divided opinions regarding his work. Upon reviewing my pictures of the paintings for this blog, they were obviously a record of the ones I liked the most, I can really understand the allure of Bonnard. I was drawn to his use of colours and perspective in his paintings. Many of my favourites were of his wife such as the nudes and the bathtubs.
However, Bonnard seemed to lack consistency, which is where I side with Picasso. There were definitely other paintings where the proportions of the people or faces were very distorted that I had to question whether it was purposeful or was it just sloppy? I mean just look at the mother and child, or the woman in the foreground in Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1922).
Who do you agree with the most – Picasso or Matisse? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please drop me a note below!
Overall, I would give the exhibition a 3.5 out of 5 pineapples. It was well thought out and thorough exhibition of the artist’s work. At least by the end of it, I felt like I knew him a bit better and could draw my own conclusion as to whether I liked him or not.
With Sweet & Sour Love,
Pineapple Chicken x
For those who would like a little more detail, the Tate has a wonderful introduction to the exhibition.
P.S. these other reviews just made me laugh so I thought I would share.