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Pierre Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard

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A French painter and printmaker, Pierre Bonnard was a post-impressionist, and founding member of the avant-garde group Les Nabis. Bonnard lived an uneventful childhood, and entered into the University of Paris in 1896 to study law. One year later, he enrolled in the Academie Julian, a liberal Parisian art school, where he met Paul Serusier, Mauris Denis, Henri Ibels, and Paul Ransom. The five friends, all of similar artistic inclination, joined together to form Les Nabis, a group of avant-garde post-impressionist painters.

The first exhibition of his works was in 1891, at the Salon des Independants, and the first exhibition of the work of the Nabis in the same year. In addition to paintings, Bonnard was a prolific artist, producing furniture and textile deigns, puppets for puppet shows, painted screens, stage sets, and illustrated books. After 1900, he began spending more time in the countryside between Normandy and Paris, producing a great number of landscapes. Beginning in 1906, Bonnard began his annual one-man exhibitions at an art firm that had exclusive rights to his works, which were traditionally impressionistic, albeit with an enhance color palette.

Before the beginning of World War I, Bonnard traveled extensively throughout Europe and North Africa, although his paintings were not indicative of his experiences there. The same went for the trials and tribulations of World War I, of which there is no reference in his paintings. Bonnard continued to create major exhibitions of his work, traveling to the United States, commissioned to paint the French pavilion at the Exposition Universeilles in Paris in 1937. His last painting, The Almond Tree in Flower, was painted a week before his death in 1947. The Museum of Modern Art, in New York, exhibited a posthumous exhibition of his work in 1948, although they had been planning the work since before the artist’s death the year before, as a celebration of his 80th birthday.

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Pierre Bonnard (French: [bɔnaʁ]; 3 October 1867 — 23 January 1947) was a French painter and printmaker, as well as a founding member of the Post-Impressionist group of avant-garde painters Les Nabis. Bonnard preferred to work from memory, using drawings as a reference, and his paintings are often characterized by a dreamlike quality. The intimate domestic scenes, for which he is perhaps best known, often include his wife Marthe de Meligny.

Bonnard has been described as "the most thoroughly idiosyncratic of all the great twentieth-century painters", and the unusual vantage points of his compositions rely less on traditional modes of pictorial structure than voluptuous color, poetic allusions and visual wit. Identified as a late practitioner of Impressionism in the early 20th century, he has since been recognized for his unique use of color and his complex imagery. "It's not just the colors that radiate in a Bonnard", writes Roberta Smith, "there’s also the heat of mixed emotions, rubbed into smoothness, shrouded in chromatic veils and intensified by unexpected spatial conundrums and by elusive, uneasy figures."

Bonnard was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine on 3 October 1867. He led a happy and carefree youth as the son of a prominent official of the French Ministry of War. He studied classics during his baccalaureate. At the insistence of his father, Bonnard studied law, graduating and briefly practicing as a barrister in 1888. However, he had also attended art classes at Ecole des Beaux-Arts and Académie Julian, and soon decided to become an artist.

His earlier work such as Woman in Checkered Dress (1890) shows the influence of Japanese prints. In 1891, he met Toulouse-Lautrec and began showing his work at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In the same year Bonnard also began an association with La Revue Blanche, for which he and Édouard Vuillard designed frontispieces. Bonnard's talent was appreciated early in his career, Claude Roger-Marx remarked in 1893 that he "catches fleeting poses, steals unconscious gestures, crystallises the most transient expressions". His first show was at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1896.

In his twenties Bonnard was a part of Les Nabis, a group of young artists committed to creating work of symbolic and spiritual nature. Other Nabis include Vuillard and Maurice Denis. In addition to his paintings, he also became known for his posters and book illustrations, as well as for his prints and theater set designs. He left Paris in 1910 for the south of France.

Bonnard was described, by his own friend and historians, as a man of "quiet temperament" and one who was unobtrusively independent. His life was relatively free from "the tensions and reversals of untoward circumstance". It has been suggested that: "Like Daumier, whose life knew little serenity, Bonnard produced a work during his sixty years' activity that follows an even line of development."

Bonnard is known for his intense use of color, especially via areas built with small brush marks and close values. His often complex compositions—typically of sunlit interiors and gardens populated with friends and family members—are both narrative and autobiographical. Bonnard's fondness for depicting intimate scenes of everyday life, has led to him being called an "Intimist"; his wife Marthe was an ever-present subject over the course of several decades. She is seen seated at the kitchen table, with the remnants of a meal; or nude, as in a series of paintings where she reclines in the bathtub. He also painted several self-portraits, landscapes, street scenes, and many still lifes, which usually depicted flowers and fruit.

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