Remembering the Immediate Impressionist Painter Pierre Bonnard's Creative Process

By Andreae, Christopher | The Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 1994 | Go to article overview

Remembering the Immediate Impressionist Painter Pierre Bonnard's Creative Process


Andreae, Christopher, The Christian Science Monitor


BONNARD By Nicholas Watkins; Phaidon Press Limited, 240 pp., $49.95.

FRENCH painter Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) drew rapidly in front of a subject. But he painted his paintings in his studio. The subject had become a vivid memory to be recollected.

So although viewers of "La Nappe a carreaux rouges" ("The red-checked tablecloth") may justifiably imagine that they and the artist himself are sitting at the opposite side of the table from his wife, Marthe, and their black labrador, Dingo, the fact is that when he actually applied the oil paint to the canvas and produced this engaging image, it had long since disappeared.

"The presence of the object, the motif, is disturbing to a painter," he once observed. "An idea being the starting point of a picture, there is danger that he will allow himself to be influenced by the immediate, direct view of its details, if the object is there while he works."

The purpose of his drawings "on the spot" seems to have been to fix - in a virtual shorthand - essential points of reference to remind him later of some passing moment. The moment, and its reinvention in the terms of a painting, is absolutely crucial to Bonnard's vision. Although the dog fixes its mistress with a "feed-me" stare of frozen intensity, it has popped up above the horizon of the table like a porpoise and will be gone in a minute.

Marthe, perhaps in a reverie, fiddles with something between her fingers. She seems both permanent and transitory. Even the touch of sunlight illuminating the tip of her nose will, in an instant, vanish. …

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