“Drawing is feeling. Color is an act of reason.”
In compliance with his father’s wishes the French artist Pierre Bonnard studied law at university and in 1889 became a lawyer. It was to be a short lived career move for in the same year Bonnard won a competition to design a poster for a French champagne company. With the proceeds from the competition Bonnard abandoned the law and set up a studio in Montmartre with several friends including the formidable post impressionist artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who he introduced to commercial poster production.
Along with Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard these young artists supported themselves producing stage settings and costumes for the Théâtre d’Art, the Théâtre Libre and for the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre.
Seven years after his competition win Bonnard had his first solo exhibition at the gallery run by the impressionist collector and dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Often referred to as a late impressionist and whilst being friends with both Monet and Renoir, Bonnard’s works differ in both intention and execution.
Bonnard was a studio painter working from memory using sketches and to a lesser extent photography as memory aides. His compositional points of view were often dramatic forcing the audience into the role of voyeur. But color was his predominant concern, as he has stated “It is still color; it is not yet light.”
It is said that when Bonnard had mixed a color he particularly liked he would touch up other ‘finished’ paintings in his studio. And reportedly, he once had his friend Édouard Vuillard distract a museum security guard while he touched up a painting on display he had painted several years earlier.
In his critique of a 1947 retrospective exhibition of Bonnard’s work, the art critic Christian Zervos said "In Bonnard's work, Impressionism becomes insipid and falls into decline." To which the artist Henri Matisse responded "Yes! I maintain that Bonnard is a great artist for our time and, naturally, for posterity."
And as history would seem to have it the artist’s opinion is far more astute than that of the critic.