The Musée d'Orsay's current exhibition Pierre Bonnard: Peindre l'Arcadie is a delight. I walked out of this celebration of color feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
The (well-written and accessible) wall panels summed up Bonnard's style as possessing elegance, vitality, charm, deftness and humor. These words aptly describe the exhibition as a whole.
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) was a French painter who helped form the Post-Impressionist, avant-garde group Les Nabis. The exhibition starts off with his early work, which strongly displays the influences of Japanese prints and Gauguin. These first works show a decorative style, with flat perspective and patterns that weave together with swirling lines and vibrant colors. Bonnard's preferred subjects were private life and the contemporary world. And cats.
The Nabis disbanded in 1900, but Bonnard continued exploring the limits of painting for the rest of his life.
Each painting was like a window into an ordered and aesthetically pleasing world full of hidden desires. Like for the Poussin exhibition at the Louvre, your eye has to roam over the complex compositions before you can fully understand them. Bonnard suggests, rather than describes, his scenes.
Rejoicing in Color
As the exhibition so beautifully puts it, Bonnard rejoiced in color. And I rejoiced along with him.
I mean, can we please talk about the extraordinary oranges in this painting and the sensual tablecloth? (Side note: the main woman in the painting is Bonnard's mistress who killed herself two years after this painting was completed, when he married his long term partner, pictured on the right...)
As Bonnard grew older, he broke free of naturalism to develop a poetic interpretation of nature, and the colors he used are magnificent. He had a wild garden near Giverny, and he and Monet bonded over gardening. But Bonnard wasn't an impressionist; his compositions were the result of lengthy reflections.
I could imagine living with many of the paintings in this exhibition.
I literally exclaimed aloud "Good Lord!" as I entered the room dedicated to Bonnard's time on the French Riviera. The dark tones of his Nabi period are abandoned for joyful light. One painting in particular, La Palme (of which I will not post a picture because photography seems to kill his colors), struck me with its nuanced treatment of Mediterranean light. It was painted at a time when he was gaining international recognition, but right after his mistress's suicide. The joy of color in the painting is also somehow tempered. Warmth and coolness have equal treatment.
This exhibition is a must-see.
Pierre Bonnard: Peindre l'Arcadie at the Musée d'Orsay (until July 19, 2015)
Address: 1, rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris ∣ Métro: Solférino (line 12) ∣ Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 6pm, open until 9:45pm on Thursday