Andr� Ostier, Pierre Bonnard, 1941, silver gelatin photograph (Detail)
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Pierre BONNARD | Balcony at Vernonnet [Le Balcon à Vernonnet]
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France 1867 – 1947
Balcony at Vernonnet
[Le Balcon à Vernonnet]
c. 1920
oil on canvas
100.0 (h) x 78.0 (w) cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest
Answer the following questions:
  1. Here Bonnard has defined shapes by using different textures rather than outlines.
    How does the bottom half of the composition differ in texture from the top half?
  2. How does Bonnard convince you that, at the bottom of the painting, you are looking down and, at the top, you are looking up? Can you see the horizon?
    How does the balcony fit into this compositional scheme?
  3. Another name for this painting is The Flowering Apple Tree. What are the composition’s other main points of interest?
    Why do you choose them?
  4. List all the things about the painting that might persuade someone to refer to its ‘lushness’.

This is a view from the artist's own house at Vernonnet, on the River Seine 65 kilometres west-north-west of Paris. The house was called Ma Roulotte (My Caravan). An alternative title for this painting is The Flowering Apple Tree, and we can see the tree right in the centre of the composition.

Without the striking perspective of the balcony, the picture would look quite decoratively flat, for in the rest of the scene there are no opportunities for lines moving towards a vanishing point, and few for showing more distant objects as fainter or bluer — although, once you work out that they are there, the distant hills glimpsed through the trees are blue.

Darting towards us is a child, right arm outstretched as though pushing aside the plants that appear to be crowding his path through the garden. The entire garden is painted in such a way as to insist that it is as alive as the child.

The top part of the picture is dark, yet the massive shaded trunks of the trees and the heavy green foliage are as vibrant in their own way as the myriad blossoms on the band of slighter trees below them. The bottom half of the composition is bathed in direct sunlight, conveyed by numerous licks of near-white paint that leave us in no doubt of the vegetation’s lushness.

Grandeur in the background, gaiety in the blossoms, and profusion in the long grass of the foreground: ‘A picture is a series of interconnected marks that finally form the object’, explained Bonnard, ‘the area over which the eye travels without a hitch.’

Article authored by the NGA Education department
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The Pierre Bonnard works on this page are reproduced with the permission of
ADAGP, Paris and VISCOPY Ltd, Sydney 2003.