The Goal of Integrating Art and Everyday Life.

Pierre Bonnard, 1867 – 1947.

Pierre Bonnard belonged to a group of painters who were known as The Nabis. The word nabi is Hebrew for prophet ‘inspired to speak the word of God’ The group worked together from 1900 to 1906, when they split up.
I have admired the work of the French painter Bonnard for many years, long before I learnt about the Nabis and their contemporaries. I would walk from our home south of the river, to visit the Tate Gallery and would gaze at The Bonnard painting he did of his wife Marthe in her bath. Pierre Bonnard is accessable as a painter, which is probably why I liked his work so much, but in fact these painters in the group were to influence Cubist painters who worked later. He borrowed lightness from the Impressionists, the bold colours of the Post Impressionists and the Fauves, he filled his work with his own intensity.The group was aware of Japanese prints, as were many painters at the time, such as Van Gogh, they also liked Art Nouveau, which was especially popular in Paris for a short time, until Art Deco arrived on the scene.
One of the group, Maurice Denis, worte that ‘the canvas is a flat surface covered with colours, assembled in a certain order’, while Eduard Vuillard wrote ‘who speaks of art speaks of poetry’. What concerned them was individuality, using pure colour organisation and form. Denis said he didn’t paint portraits, he painted people in their home. I understand the difference.
The Nabis explored the daily scene, using symbols we understand, not in the way the Impressionists had when they captured ephemeral light, but they looked back to traditional values, for a static and unchanging conception of reality. Their critics thought the work was a regressive form of painting, which ignored the achievements of the Impressionist painters. The Nabis rejected the painting theories of their tutors, which they considered to be materialistic, the Nabis aimed to use colour and design, to bring about harmony and balance – the goals of Classicism.
Bonnard spent his working life ‘exploring and analysing the process of seeing and looking and so translating ways in which visual perceptions interlock with the process of memory.’ Nicholas Serota.
To return to the painting of Marthe in the bath, the painting glows with yellow, the bath is a ‘porcelian tomb made incadescent by the gold and violet light, reflecting off the surfaces of the tiles and the water’. The use of complementry colours makes them zing, Matisse and Van Gogh, to name two painters, used the same technique.The subject matter in Bonnard’s work is I find, comforting, not sentimental though, their dog would often feature in his work, every day situations were captured, sitting in the garden drinking tea, laying a table for a meal, three generations painted in a triangular composition, grandmother, Bonnardmother and baby. His self portraits were different, searing and strong, to be compared favourbly with those of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Bonnard would often mix up perspective, a table for example would be on a different plane, to show what lay on it more fully, he used geometry and perspective in order to obtain the effect he sought. I think he succeeds in integrating art and every day life.

7 thoughts on “The Goal of Integrating Art and Everyday Life.

  1. I like the unusual perspective in the example picture, and I think I can see what you’re getting at, as the effect is both homely and unearthly at the same time. The colours remind me of Klimt (his famous golden pictures of embracing couples with different fabric patterns on their clothes) and also of Odilon Redon, whose symbolism I like very much. Would there be a connection with either of these?

  2. Hi Robert,
    I know the Klimt painting you refer to, it is beautiful, in fact there is a print of it in our local doctor’s surgery, which of course doesn’t do the work justice. A few months ago on television, there was a series of three programmes, which discussed painters who used, white, blue and gold in their work and Klimt’s work was discussed during the programme on gold, gold seems to radiate heavenly qualities, halos are often painted in gold and it is used in mosaics in the same way in Byzantine art.
    Bonnard was a Symbolist painter, he was also a founder of the Nabis movement. Odilon Redon was older than Bonnard, and like him was against naturalism and realism, being in favour of spirituality, he even dabbled in witchcraft and sorcery. Symbolist art was seen as a contemplative refuge from the world of strife. Their manifesto was published in 1886. saying that the passing tangible world is not true reality, but a reflection of the ‘unseen Absolute,’ they painted magical, sacred and sometimes mythological themes. Redon was also aware of Japanese prints, they made a huge impact, when they were first seen in Europe. Redon painted religious figures such as Le Boudda and Christ, as well as vases of flowers and portraits.
    There were many poets attached to the Symbolist movement and Debussey’s work is
    also seen as Symbolist inspired. There is a close connection that exists between them. Bonnard made no record in painting about WW1, as far as I know, he must have been well aware that is was going on, recording domestic scenes was his life long passion and colour too.

  3. I find Odilon Redon’s work very much evokes the archetypes for me – particularly the anima/animus, the mysterious but attractive other. Redon’s subjects are generally very ‘other’ too, in fact dreamlike and bizarre (flowers with human heads etc.). Perhaps Bonnard’s achievement is greater if he manages to achieve similar effects with everyday subjects.

  4. Although it’s a very small image, I too love the picture. The naked woman in the bath reminds me of an oyster in its shell, the contours of each are an almost organic fit; the woman’s form innocent, inert, almost edible. There is also – for me – a pearl-like translucency conveyed by the shimmering blues, pinks and golds.

    The composition transcends some of my bathroom sense: of steaminess and warmth, and of seclusion/intimacy: the picture suggests neither. The composition ‘supposes’ an angle of observation that is both wide and yet seems to ‘look down upon’ the woman, ‘as if’ at a respectful distance. The dog occupies her/his own pink field, her/his relation seems to be between the observer and the woman; and the dog is rather distinctively coloured and executed as if to stand out from the rest of the composition. A rebuke? A reminder? A defence?

    As with Heaney’s poem, the effect on me is to disarm my assumptions by makimg me aware of my tendency to juggle them into a kind of satisficing coherence, and then to relax into enjoyment of my creative confusion, before its little colourful bubble pops.

  5. I have made the image a little bigger. (Norma, on a technical note: you can select the size at the time you insert it. If you put up more paintings on the site in future it would also be good to upload as large a size as you can find so that people can see the detail. When the image is large and detailed, you can see it in fuller detail when published by clicking on it).

  6. Hi Robert and Peter,
    I will find some images of Redon’s work online, and look at his subect matter in a new way, I hadn’t thought of them as portraying archetypes before. Something new I’ve learnt. I don’t know very much about his work, but will do some more reading.
    Although Bonnard was devoted to his wife, using her as a model was a means to an end. Although you suggest Peter, if I have understood you correctly, that it is painted in an aloof way, because of its strange mix of perpective, I do think the painting has a precious, intimate quality and is a very private portrayal of her. I like the oyster analogy very much, when I think of the bath as a shell. Marthe had an obsession with bathing, hence the many bathroom scenes Bonnard painted.

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