GARDEN PARTY by Bob Kessel after Bonnard

Bob Kessel has created a new art series titled, “BON BONNARD” based on the works of Pierre Bonnard. The pictures are available as limited edition fine art prints, signed and numbered by the artist. Contact Bob Kessel for prices and availability.

The painter Pierre Bonnard was born in France in 1867, and came of age when Impressionism was at the height of its formative influence on young painters. He studied at the official French art academy, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but during the creatively fertile 1890’s teamed up with a group of young painters who were influenced greatly by Paul Gauguin. At this time, Gauguin had developed an aesthetic viewpoint which stood against the naturalism of the art of the past, including Impressionism, and looked for an art which was independent of external reality. This art would throw off the shackles of civilization, the accumulated conventions that stood in the way of man returning to his more natural, primitive self, and the romance of his original dreams and desires. This group of young painters, including Bonnard, called themselves the Nabis, or prophets. They followed Gauguin’s dictum that color in painting should be used independently of objective reality, that painting is above all an arrangement of colors and shapes on a flat surface, and not an imitation of visible reality. Their subject matter tended toward the dream-like.

Some other influences of the time included Japanese prints, which had been newly imported in the mid-19th century, and the new invention of photography. Both of these influenced painters’ ideas about composition; photography with its snapshot effect of contemporary life, cutting off objects and figures in the middle, at the edges of the photograph; and Japanese prints (painters so influenced were referred to as japoniste) with their flattened space and lack of three-dimensional form. Up until the mid-19th century, Renaissance space had predominated – the illusion of objects receding into the distance, and the modeling of three-dimensional form using chiaroscuro (lights and darks, or shading).

Another difference from Impressionism was the Nabis’ (or Symbolists’) painting not from life, but from memory or their imaginations; also, they didn’t use the small “dabs” that the Impressionists used in their paintings. Bonnard also worked and re-worked his canvases, unlike many Impressionist paintings, which were done “on the spot.” Like Impressionism, though, there was a lack of three-dimensional modeling and conventional perspective; the work was more atmospheric (spatially concerned – an “airiness”) rather than volumetric (concerned with three dimensions and linear perspective). And color was of paramount importance to them, as it was to the Impressionists. Impressionism was thus carried further by the Nabis; in particular, Bonnard adopted brushwork similar to that of Monet’s late series of Water Lilies. There is a story that Monet grunted his approval in front of one of Bonnard’s mature canvases.

In particular, the color violet had not been used very much prior to Impressionism; Bonnard made it his staple color, along with the other two secondary colors, orange and green, and all the mixtures of these colors to form rich grays. In fact, Bonnard is one of the best colorists of the 20th century; the color relationships in his paintings are nothing short of revelatory. His color is bold, luminous, opalescent and rich, and based on the relationships between adjacent colors and scumbling (painting layer over layer unevenly so that the underlying colors show through). His color, like that in painting since Manet, was based not on value (light and dark), but only color itself.

Painting since the mid-19th century in Europe had shifted from the former Renaissance tradition of illusionistic space to the modern flatness of painting, where all areas of the painting are on the same plane – the picture plane, as opposed to receding into the distance. This was accomplished in the positioning of forms on the picture plane in a more two-dimensional pattern, rather than using linear perspective. This could also be accomplished with the use of color: One way is to use color blotches, as Bonnard did, of equal intensities of color, so that they appear to be in the same position in space; another way is to use warm colors (orange, yellow) in the distant areas of the painting, and cool colors (blue, blue-violet) in the areas closest to the picture plane (front). Normally, warm colors are thought to come forward in space, and cool colors to recede into space. This causes the space to “even up” – and equalize, flattening the space onto one plane, located in the very front of the painting, closest to the viewer. Bonnard’s use of color is sensual – to the point of strong emotion.

As far as subject matter, Bonnard is most known for his interiors of domestic scenes – his wife, Marthe, and their pet dogs and cats, often seated at a table full of dishes and food. Since Bonnard painted from memory, the type of space he used was more often “primitive,” that is, more flat than linear perspective would be. So, the table surface was not in perspective – so the viewer sees most of the table as a flat, vertical area in the painting, rather than shortened as it would be if perspective was used. The round dishes are similarly more circles than ellipses, as they would be if viewed by someone seated at the table. Often, a window is used in the painting, through which we can see the distant and close landscape. So, many of his paintings are actually landscape, still life and figure. He also did many paintings of his wife (or a model) at her bath. These interiors are so intimate in feeling, they are like snapshots with a feeling of eternity to them. Bonnard felt that if he were to paint from life, he might get overwhelmed by the subject matter and paint a more naturalistic image; he wanted the paintings to be distilled by his memory. Painters speak of resistance from the subject matter; if one does not paint from life sufficiently when learning, there is a danger of not enough resistance from the subject matter (not being challenged by it); if one paints totally from life, there is a danger of too much resistance from the subject matter, which can stifle any visual independence on the part of the painter.

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