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Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

( Originally Published 1955 )

An outstanding French painter of the Nabis (see) group and particularly of its Intimist branch; began as a law student, then went to the Beaux-Arts; from there to the Academie Julian where he met Denis, Vuillard, Serusier and others. It was Serusier who brought the message of Gauguin and Japanese prints to the group, and especially to Bonnard. Bonnard participated in the formation of the Nabis and shared a studio with Vuillard, Maurice Denis and the theatrical producer Lugne-Poe. He contributed to the artistic work of the periodical La Revue Blanche, helped with the sets and costumes for the Theatre de 1'Oeuvre and did a set of lithographs for the picture dealer-publisher Ambroise Vollard in connection with Quelques Aspects de ló Vie de Paris. His first exhibition was in 1896 at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. He then did more illustrations for books, some quite influential in setting the tone for the modern illustrated book through the mingling of text with pictures. A good many of these very beautiful books are part of Vollard's extensive and continuing publishing program in which many artists took part. Bunnard's early style as a painter and member of the Nabis group is typical of the Intimist side of their effort and distinctly parallel to that of Vuillard, with whom he was very friendly. But basically he appears to have been drawn to the beauty of Impressionist color for its own sake, and once he had moved away from the literary and symbolic atmosphere of La Revue Blanche, his art became a more imaginative kind of Impressionism; he ventured into deliberate but not too disturbing dissonances of color and into minor keys that have a charming decorative effect. This decorativism, however, is abstract in the full modern sense of the word, and its structural quality was shortly after to prove of great interest to such painters as Matisse. More than this, Bonnard's feeling is for the large space in the mural sense and if his murals are not altogether traditional in their relationship to the wall, they have a powerful and still patently emotive effect that parallels the mural interests of certain members of Die Brucke in Germany. His art, however it may suggest Impressionist color, is never purely light-describing but reduces the various elements to a preconceived design of form and color, contributing to the Fauve movement of the pre-World War I period and apparently later receiving from it in turn certain clear stimuli. Bonnard's own description of his painting was that it lay somewhere between Intimism and decoration.

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