Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pierre Bonnard: Le Cannet

Photo by

Yesterday I had the chance to visit le Cannet for the first time.  The occasion was to see the inaugural exhibition of the new Bonnard Museum, the first in the world dedicated to this well respected painter.

In the exhibition to my surprise and delight there were more than a handful of impressive works on loan from  the Phillips collection, Wash., the Tate, d'Orsay, the Metropolitan and other world class museums. The idea is that this museum will borrow treasured works during the tourist season and show their own, not insignificant, permanent collection the rest of the year.  This is great news for art lovers as regional museums are finding it more and more difficult to borrow and/ or buy any major works of significance in a market that has gone beyond reach.  

Photo by art archive

Bonnard is an artist whom I greatly admire for his mastery of color and composition.  I would say that as many recognized artists, his draughtsmanship and painting technique is not conventional, could even be said to be "bad".  He scrubs with the brush in tentative daubs and streaks, building layers consecutively with no apparent plan or idea.  It would seem that he didn't know what he was doing but, the paintings are well thought out.  There was sometimes ( but not always) great effort to keep the luminosity of the paint sometimes by using rag application instead of brushes, or thin paint in some areas where more light is needed, opaque in others.
This painting entitled Cote d'Azur above, does not translate on film or pixels, it has to be seen in order to see it's absolute mastery of luminosity and depth. It is borrowed from the Phillips Collection in Washington.

      The rag technique that Bonnard often used also created an unfocused appearance that adds to the dreamy complexity of many of the works in oils.  Bonnard's slow, application of color next to color or superimposed one on the other, forces the viewer to do the color mixing almost in the same skillful way as pointillism, used specifically for that effect.  The result is a sophisticated color mechanism which looks unplanned and deceptively unskilled but as Bonnard himself confessed: 'II faut mentir' (one must lie)."   

photo by Lessing 

To me Bonnard is the one of the few artists who skates on the verge of disaster by his balance of cool and warm colors.  Most amateurs want to put in all the colors and end by making a muddle , putting in equal amounts of colors in one canvas.  Bonnard has the ability like no other artist, to use warm and cool colors often in what seems like equal measure.  But he use this ability to advantage and we are seduced.

  In the three paintings from the show above, you don't see this phenomenon, as they are obviously tipped towards either cool or warm tones.   But look at this one below ( not in the show).   The intense saturation of the yellow speaks very loudly so you have the impression that warm and cool colors are used in equal measure.  If you look closely you can see that cool colors predominate with a pleasing result.

The new museum building in le Cannet is a mixture of an existing 1920's  house in the town center, next to the Hotel de Ville and a modern addition of an elevator , gift shop, student atelier and entry.  The melange seems to work well and the show is effectively laid out in three stages starting on the fifth floor and descending to a projection room with a film. 
 In addition there is a suggestion of a cultural walk to include views from specific painting sites and the site of the artist's home/ studio in Le Cannet ( which is not open to the public as it is still used by Bonnard's niece as a summer residence).  

The exhibition brings together around 60 works and is on until the 25th of September . If you can't be here, do take a look at the site and I think you will find some fascinating information about the artist.


  1. really appreciated your reflections (no pun intended) on Bonnard...

  2. I have always loved Bonnard's work, ever since I started studying art. Thanks. Lovely. Iris

  3. Love this artist! Thanks for showing me!!


  4. Beautiful! I love his paintings.