French painter, illustrator, and print-maker Pierre Bonnard was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine on 3 October 1867. Bonnard showed a talent for drawing and water colours, as well as caricatures. He painted frequently in the gardens of his parent’s country home at Grand-Lemps near the Cote Saint-André in the Dauphiné. He also showed a strong interest in literature. Bonnard received his baccalaureate in the classics, and to satisfy his father, earned his license in law, and began practicing as a lawyer beginning in 1888. While he was studying law, he also attended art classes at the Académie Julian in Paris where he met Edouard Vuillard and Ker Xavier Roussel. He also sold his first commercial work of art, a design for a poster for France-Champagne, which helped him convince his family that he could make a living as an artist. He set up his first studio at on rue Lechapelais and began his career as an artist.
Bonnard was a leading figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism. He painted landscapes, urban scenes, portraits and intimate domestic scenes, where the backgrounds, colours and painting style usually took precedence over the subject. After the summer holidays of 1888, Bonnard and his friends from the Académie Julian became the founding members of the Post-Impressionist group of avant-garde painters, known as Les Nabis. This was an informal group of artists with different styles and philosophies, but common artistic ambitions. Two of Bonnard’s featured images include:
- Siesta (1900) oil on canvas (Felton Bequest, National Gallery of Victoria). Siesta belongs to Bonnard’s ‘realist’ period during which he painted frank portraits documenting his relationship with his model and muse Marthe Boursin. Marthe’s pose has been reconfigured to evoke the Borghese Hermaphrodite, a famously erotic sculpture in the Louvre. Siesta was well-known among Paris’s literary and artistic circles and was once owned by Gertrude Stein.
- Portrait of Reine Natanson and Marthe Bonnard (1928) oil on canvas, School of Paris, Musee D’art Moderne. Reine was the second wife of Thadee Natanson, former editor of the Revue Blanche and a close friend of Bonnard. She sat several times during 1920-21 and is wearing the red dress.
From 1893 until her death, Bonnard lived with Marthe de Méligny (1869–1942) aka Maria Boursin (birth name). They married in 1925. In the years before their marriage, Bonnard had love affairs with two other women, who also served as models for some of his paintings, Renée Monchaty (the partner of the American painter Harry Lachmann); and Lucienne Dupuy de Frenelle, the wife of a doctor.
- It has been suggested that Bonnard may have been the father of Lucienne’s second son.
- Renée Monchaty committed suicide shortly after Bonnard and de Méligny (Boursin) married.
Bonnard was known especially for his stylized decorative qualities and his bold use of colour. His early work was strongly influenced by Paul Gauguin’s paintings; and the prints of Hokusai and other Japanese artists.
- In 1893 Bonnard viewed a major exposition of the works of Utamaro and Hiroshige at the Durand-Rouel Gallery. The Japanese use of multiple points of view, and bold geometric patterns in clothing, such as checkered blouses, began to appear in Bonnard’s work.
- Because of his passion for Japanese art, Bonnard’s nickname among the Nabis became Le Nabi le trés japonard.
Working in his studio at 65 rue de Douai in Paris, Bonnard presented paintings at the Salon des Independents in 1900, and took part in an exhibition with the other Nabis at the Bernheim Jeaune Gallery. By 1905, he produced a series of nudes and portraits, and in the following year had a personal exposition at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. Bonnard’s reputation as an artist grew and in 1918 he was selected, along with Renoir, as an Honorary President of the Association of Young French Artists.
- Bonnard finished his last painting, The Almond Tree in Blossom, a week before his death on 23 January 1947, at his cottage on La Route de Serra Capeou near Le Cannet, on the French Riviera.
- The Museum of Modern Art in New York City organized a posthumous retrospective of Bonnard’s work in 1948, although originally it was meant to be a celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday.
“Is It Art?”