Beautiful, bold colors are the signature style of Pierre Bonnard’s Art. In fact, art historians describe Bonnard as being one the greatest colorists of the 20th century.

Pierre Bonnard was a French colorist, lithographer and poster designer. He is also famous for being one of the founding members of the group of symbolist painters called Les Nabis.

Pierre Bonnard’s art was influenced by the art movements of his time, although he did not associate with any of them. His paintings display elements of impressionism, post-impressionism and Japonism.

Pierre Bonnard – Japonism art

Early Life

Bonnard was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses, a town south-west of Paris in 1867. He came from a wealthy and respectable family. His father pressured him into studying law. He even worked as a barrister for a brief period. However, Bonnard had other dreams.

“It’s not a matter of painting life, it’s a matter of giving life to painting” – Pierre Bonnard Quote –

Pierre Bonnard painting called Cherry Pie
Cherry Pie – Pierre Bonnard Art [Public Domain]

While working in law, Bonnard took evening classes in art at the Julian Academy. Here, he met other artists including Paul Serusier, Mauris Denis, Paul Ranson and Édouard Vuillard. Bonnard together with these artists, would later form the Les Nabis movement.

In 1888, Bonnard enrolled at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. However he found their teaching methods outmoded and left. At this point, he decided to stop practicing law and to become a full time artist. He shared a studio in Montmartre with Denis and Vuillard. 

Painting Style

From 1900 onwards, Bonnard embraced impressionism elements. He started painting with richer and brighter tones and with thicker brushstrokes. However, unlike the Impressionists, he painted more intimate scenes like women bathing and family scenes at the table. This style was coined Intimism.  

Bonnard Painting - Nude woman - Intimism
Pierre Bonnard Art – Intimism

His wife, Marthe de Méligny, modelled for many of his paintings. In fact he painted her 385 times. She never seemed to age, indicating that Bonnard painted from memory rather than the present moment.

His paintings often portayed sunlit rooms and gardens populated with friends and family. It seems that Bonnard’s paintings were often a visual commentary of his fortunate life. 

Bonnard also painted landscapes, cityscapes, still life scenes and several portraits. He often worked on a few paintings simultaneously, tacking each painting onto the walls of his very small studio.

Throughout his career, he showed no interest in the modern art movements like Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism. For him they were far too abstract for his liking.

Pierre Bonnard Painting of a street scene
Pierre Bonnard Art – Cityscape

Pierre Bonnard Art & His Magical Use of Color

For Bonnard, color was a way of depicting emotion and experiencing the world. Color was such a focal point for Bonnard that when he discovered and liked a particular tone, he would even go back to older paintings and add a dab of that color.

There is a funny story told that once he persuaded his buddy Édouard Vuillard to distract one of the guards in an art museum. While doing so, Bonnard quickly touched up a painting with a color he liked. This painting had been completed years before.

Painting from Memory

Although influenced by the Impressionists, Bonnard preferred not to adopt their philosophy of painting plein air, and captivating the changing light at the time of painting. Bonnard preferred to paint the subjects of his canvases from memory and in a studio. Bonnard’s philosophy was to capture the essence of the moment rather than depict it exactly as is.

“What I am after is the first impression – I want to show all one sees on first entering the room – what my eye takes in at first glance” (Quote- Pierre Bonnard)

Bonnard did not paint from life. He either drew the subject matter first or photographed them, making notes about colors. Only then, did Bonnard start painting.

Bonnard’s Varied Art Works

Bonnard not only painted but also designed fabric patterns, created stage sets, made puppets for puppet shows, illustrated books and designed furniture. This fit into the Nabi philosophy of applying their art ideas into different art forms.

Exhibitions

Bonnard was one of the lucky painters. Although he shied away from public attention, he gained recognition for his art during his lifetime. He exhibited in solo exhibitions in Paris from 1904 on-wards. In 1924 and at the age of 57, he was celebrated with a first retrospective exhibition.

In 1928, he had his first one-man exhibition in New York. From that point on, Bonnard’s paintings became internationally well known. Pierre Bonnard’s art spans an impressive six decades. Today his paintings are exhibited in the best art museums around the world.

In 1988 the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York held major retrospectives of his work. Today, his paintings sell for the millions. A week ago, on May 13, 2019, a Bonnard painting called Terrasse ou une terrasse à Grasse (1912) hammered at a Christies auction for the crazy price of $19.5 million. This marks a new world record for a Bonnard painting.

Pierre Bonnard Art - Terrasse ou une terrasse à Grasse (1912)
Pierre Bonnard Painting – Terrasse ou une terrasse à Grasse (1912)
Sold for $19.5 million

Where to View Pierre Bonnard’s Art Works in Paris:

  • The Musée d’Art Moderne showcases 10 Bonnard artworks including 8 paintings and 2 sketches. For more information about hours, tickets and current exhibitions, press here.
  • The impressive Centre Pompidou owns the second largest collection of modern and contemporary art in the world. In this museum you will also find an impressive range of Bonnard artworks.
  • Musee D’Orsay also displays a great collection of Bonnard Paintings and drawings.

In the French Riviera:

Musee Bonnard – Le Cannet

Pierre Bonnard lived in Le Cannet, a small village in the French Riviera area, for the last twenty years of his life. A museum was established in Le Cannet to celebrate Bonnard and his artistic association with this town.

In addition to showcasing many Bonnard artworks, the museum hosts a lovely collection of paintings of other post-impressionism artists such as Vuillard, Denis, Matisse & Signac.

For more information regarding current exhibitions, ticket prices and museum hours, press here 

Explore the Landscapes That Bonnard Loved – The Artist Trail in Le Cannet

The Bonnard walking trail takes you to the beautiful landscapes that the artist loved. Many of his most beautiful paintings were painted during his twenty years in Le Cannet. Along the trail you will see placards exhibiting Bonnard’s paintings, depicting the views in front of you.

The lovely Bonnard walking trail starts at the Bonnard museum. There are two trails that you can follow. One is 4.5 kms and the second is a shorter 3 kms.

Maps of the trail can be obtained from the Bonnard Museum. In the summer months, guided tours of this trail are also available. For more information, press here

Pierre Bonnard Art - Self Portrait
Bonnard Self Portrait