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BONNARD Pierre/ Artists 1900 onwards/ Main Art

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  Pierre Bonnard -


The Terrace at Vernonnet, 1939
Oil on canvas; H. 58-1/4, W. 76-3/4 in. (148 x 194.9 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Frank Jay Gould, 1968 (68.1)
©1999 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

    Bonnard: [exposition] Fondation Pierre Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, Suisse, 11 juin au 14 novembre 1999 -
Like his friend and contemporary Édouard Vuillard, Bonnard frequently painted intimate domestic interiors. In this work, he emphasized the large dinner table covered with a white cloth and laid with flatware, plates, and carafes. It is this tableau of inanimate objects, treated as an independent still life, rather than the two detached and psychologically remote figures, that is the primary focus of the composition. The absence of perspective, the flattening of forms, and the evident fondness for decorative surface patterns are typical of Bonnard's work.

After first studying law, Pierre Bonnard pursued art at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian (1888) in Paris. There, he met fellow art students Édouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis with whom he formed the Nabis (1892–99), a group of young painters under the leadership of Paul Sérusier who followed Paul Gauguin's ideas about representing things symbolically in strong patterns and colour. Shortly after 1900 Bonnard redirected his style of painting to more closely follow the Impressionist tradition, modified by his innate sense of decoration and design. He continued to use light to change the substance and colour of form, but he preferred to paint in his studio rather than in the open air and structured his compositions with formal pattern. He so convincingly went beyond the limits of local colour and the laws of natural perspective that in the "Terrace at Vernonnet" the boldness of his interpretation is barely noticeable. For example, we read the tree trunk that defines the foreground as a beautiful violet strip as well as a tree, and the foliage in the background merges into a tapestry of colour. Although Bonnard continued to paint the Paris he loved, he developed a passion for the countryside and the seasons. The daily intimacies of family life add warmth to his art (he was also referred to as an "Intimist"), but there is nothing casual in his presentation. He believed that in landscape the human figure "should be part of the background against which it is placed," and more than any other of the older Impressionist painters he deliberately controlled the viewer's eye. He knew exactly what he wanted us to see, but he didn't want everything in the picture to be evident at first glance — more concentrated looking was expected. About 1920 Bonnard originally (and atypically) painted this composition in grisaille on a slightly smaller canvas, which he left unfinished but did not destroy. From it he derived this painting, which he finished some twenty years later. It is probably Bonnard's last view of the terrace at his house in the Seine valley between Normandy and the Île de France, not far from Giverny, the home of his friend Claude Monet. He purchased the property in 1912 and used it as a subject for his painting until 1939. Elements of his comfortable bourgeois life are in evidence: fruit, wine, company. The gaze of the central figure is rather enigmatic, as is the gesture of the woman at the right. The main figures concentrate on their inner world rather than on their companions or the tasks in which they are engaged. Bonnard painted a shaded corner of the irregularly shaped, raised terrace that surrounded the house. Only a banister indicates the steps that descended to the sprawling garden below. In the painting the terrace serves as a stage, with the garden rising like a curtain beyond. Toward the end of his life Bonnard approached abstraction, increasingly subordinating the subject in order to obtain the desired effects of colour and light. 

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