French symbolist painter Pierre Bonnard was considered one of the best colorists of modern art. Inspired by the radical young disciples of Gauguin, his exuberant, domestic interiors, pastoral landscapes, portraits and still life display his extraordinary use of color. He became one of the founders of the Nabis.
Pierre Bonnard was born October 3, 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses. Son of a high-ranking official in the French War Ministry, he abided by his parents wishes and enrolled at the University of Paris to study law. That same year, Bonnard signed up for evening classes at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he made friends with Paul Sérusier, Mauris Denis, Henri Ibels, and Paul Ranson. They shared similar views about art and soon formed a society known as Les Nabis (Hebrew for 'prophets'), which was the onset of the symbolist movement. This group of artists believed that color was independent from objective reality. In accordance with Gauguin's dictum, their paintings were not an imitation of visible reality, but rather an arrangement of colors and shapes on a flat surface.
Bonnard continued his studies in law and trained as a civil servant in the Paris Registry Office in 1888. Around this time, he entered into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he met Ker-Xavier Roussel and Edouard Vuillard, who both joined the Nabis. In 1889, Pierre Bonnard won a competition to design a poster advertising French champagne. Bonnard had his first show at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1896. Subsequently, he gave up his future in Law and determinedly embarked on a career as a professional painter. He began to exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants.
The first exhibition of the Nabis was held at the Gallery of Le Barc de Boutteville, where the artist, along with other members, displayed their works. Pierre Bonnard explored various artistic mediums, and soon began to design furniture and textile patterns, and to paint screens and stage sets.
Often referred to as an intimist, Bonnard experimented with the play of sunlight in domestic interiors, giving his work an impressionist tone. He preferred painting from memory because he felt that in doing so, he would not be tempted to portray his subjects in a naturalistic way His favorite subject was his wife Marthe de Méligny, whom he had met in 1893. Some of his best works from this period included ‘Indolence’ (1899) and ‘Man and Woman’ (1900).
By the early 1900s, the Nabis had parted ways and Bonnard spent much time in the countryside between Paris and Normandy painting landscapes. In 1903, he participated in founding the Salon d’Automne. Beginning in 1906, Bonnard held annual one-man exhibitions. He signed an exclusive contract with The Bernheim-Jeune art-dealing firm to exhibit his works. The artist’s best known paintings from this period are the panels commissioned by Misia Godebska in Paris (1910) and the triptych ‘The Mediterranean’ for Ivan Morozov’s residence in Moscow (1911). In 1918, after his travels through Europe and North Africa, he became honorary president of a society of young French painters.
In 1926, Pierre Bonnard visited the United States for the first time, and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. Some critics called his works of the 1920s and 1930s "meditative masterpieces".
Bonnard was given the honor of decorating the French pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1937. Although his work was received with much enthusiasm by the public, his personal dissatisfaction prompted a return to his youthful exuberant art style, displaying dazzling light and color on canvas. He produced many memorable works during his late years.
During the Second World War, Bonnard lived in Le Bosquet and became a recluse after his wife’s death in 1942. He was quoted as saying "One does not always sing out of happiness." And so, he labored on completing his last painting entitled ‘The Almond Tree in Flower’, a week before his death in Le Cannet on Janurary 23, 1947.
Some of Pierre Bonnard's most notable paintings include ‘Morning in Paris’, ‘View of Le Cannet’, ‘The Seine’, ‘Ice Palace’, ‘Nude Washing Feet in Bathtub’, ‘Misia’ and ‘The Breakfast Room’.