By 1895 the work of Vuillard and Bonnard had diverged from flatness and pattern. They reassessed the real world and created carefully structured paintings of everyday life, with subjects often enclosed in small rooms. They created claustrophobic, textured, layered compositions that revealed the tenderness of relationships between people within an intimate environment. This depiction of everyday life in domestic interiors is referred to as Intimisme.
Bonnard later used brighter colours and larger, more expansive compositions, but his subject matter did not vary greatly and even his most cheerfully coloured paintings convey visual uncertainties and mysterious elements.
Japonisme was the fad for all things Japanese that pervaded French art and design in the second half of the nineteenth century. From the 1850s onwards, objects from Japan flowed into the West and attracted the attention of both artists and collectors. The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 saw an influx of Japanese art and traditional objects, as well as Japanese visitors to the city. The term ‘japonisme’ was coined in 1872 by a French art critic, Philippe Burty, to describe what was essentially a new field of study — the influence of Japanese style on French art.
La Revue blanche
In October 1891 the monthly journal La Revue blanche set up offices in Paris under the direction of the brothers Thadée, Alexandre and Alfred Natanson. It was one of the many French journals devoted to the arts and letters that proliferated in the late nineteenth century.
Thadée Natanson approached Pierre Bonnard offering him work after he had seen Bonnard’s prize-winning poster France-Champagne pasted up in the streets of Paris. La Revue blanche furthered the careers of many writers, such as Marcel Proust, André Gide, Octave Mirbeau, Alfred Jarry and Paul Verlaine.
In the early nineteenth century lithography became the first fundamentally new printing technology since the invention of relief printing in the fifteenth century. It is a planographic process in which the printing and non-printing areas of the plate are at the same level, as distinct from intaglio and relief processes in which the design is cut into the printing plate. Lithography is based on the simple chemical fact that oil and water do not mix. Designs are drawn or painted with greasy ink or crayons on specially prepared limestone blocks. The stone is moistened with water, which is accepted in areas not covered by the crayon. An oily ink, applied with a roller, adheres only to the drawing and is repelled by the wet parts of the stone. The print is then made by pressing paper against the inked drawing.
The word Nabi is from the Hebrew word meaning ‘prophet’ (nebiim). It was the name taken by a group of artists who met at art school — the group included Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. Sérusier returned from Brittany in 1888 having spent the summer painting with Paul Gauguin. He brought with him a small painting on a cigar-box lid — a landscape composed of planes of intense, flat colours. The young artists called this painting ‘The Talisman’ as it became a focus for the Nabis.
They believed they had a mission to change the role of art to challenge the dominance of easel painting, to include any decorative creative art from stained glass to tapestry, to exalt the expressive use of colour, and to refer to non-Western art and pre-Renaissance styles and spirituality.
Ukiyo-e translates to ‘pictures of a floating world’. The term is used to describe the work of a school of artists that emerged in Japan in the early part of the Edo Period (1600–1868), which built up a popular market among the newly prosperous middle classes. Consisting mainly of woodblock prints, but also including painting, ukiyo-e focused on the entertainment centres of its patrons, using the brothel districts and the Kabuki theatre as its subject matter.
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The Pierre Bonnard works on this page are reproduced with the permission of|
ADAGP, Paris and VISCOPY Ltd, Sydney 2003.