Pierre Bonnard 1867–1947
1867 | Pierre Bonnard was born on 3 October at Fontenay-aux-Roses, a village outside Paris. His father, Eugène Bonnard, was from the Dauphiné and was a public servant at the war ministry; his mother, Elisabeth Mertzdorff, was from Alsace. Pierre was the second child, with an older brother, Charles, born in 1864, and a younger sister, Andrée, born in 1872. Andrée married the composer Claude Terrasse in 1890. The family spent their holidays in the Dauphiné, at Le Clos (The Orchard) — the home of Eugène’s father, Michel — in the village of Le Grand-Lemps, situated between Grenoble and Lyons. The house had an adjoining farm and was surrounded by a large garden.
1875–1885 | Bonnard studies first at the Lycée in Vanves near Paris, then at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, and finally at Lycée Charlemagne, also in Paris, where he passes his baccalaureate in 1885.
1886 | Bonnard takes up law studies at the Ecole de Droit, receiving his degree in 1888. He spends a brief period at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. He devotes his free time to the serious study of painting.
1887 | Bonnard takes courses at the Académie Julian, a famous experimental art school in Paris, where he meets a group of young artists who are to become his lifelong friends, among them Maurice Denis, Henri-Gabriel Ibels, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Edouard Vuillard and Paul Sérusier. Sérusier would later become the founder and intellectual spirit of the self-styled Nabi group to which this circle would all belong. At the same time Bonnard applies to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and is admitted. He spends the summer months at the family home in Le Grand-Lemps and paints his first landscapes.
1888 | Bonnard completes his law studies, gaining a licence en droit, and becomes a licensed attorney. Sérusier is impressed by Paul Gauguin’s landscapes, having met him at Pont-Aven in Brittany, and paints small landscapes close in style to Gauguin’s. Sérusier forms the artistic group the Nabis (from the Hebrew word for ‘prophets’). Bonnard and other friends from the Académie Julian join him.
1889 | In 1889 Bonnard continues to pursue a double career: he works as an attorney (soon sworn in as a barrister) and is about to become an artist. He rents a studio at 14, rue de la Chapelle. During the Universal Exhibition held in Paris, Gauguin organises the exhibition of the ‘Impressionist and Synthesist Group’ at the Café Volpini in the Champ-de-Mars, which impresses the entire group of Nabi artists. Bonnard spends the summer months at Le Grand-Lemps and paints his first large-scale painting.
1890 | In April Bonnard is called up for military service. He rents a studio at 28, rue Pigalle, in Montmartre, which he shares with Denis, Sérusier, Vuillard and the actor Lugné-Poe. Meets André Antoine, founder of the Théâtre Libre, and Paul Fort, founder of the Théâtre d’Art. A large exhibition of Japanese prints at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, including 725 ukiyo-e woodcuts and 421 illustrated books fascinates Bonnard and his Nabi friends. He is deeply impressed by the prints, especially their simplicity in style and range of colour. They inspire Bonnard to introduce a highly decorative style in his paintings, prints, posters, drawings and furniture designs.
1891 | Bonnard’s France-Champagne poster of 1889, for which he had won a design competition two years earlier, appears on the poster walls and advertisement pillars of Paris. The Nabis have their first group exhibition, in the château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris. Bonnard shows one painting. He participates with his Nabi colleagues in the first of five group shows, ‘Peintres impressionistes et symbolistes’, at the gallery of Louis-Léon Le Barc de Boutteville. Art critic Albert Aurier calls them ‘the true artists of tomorrow’.
1892 | Bonnard shows seven paintings at the Salon des Indépendants and attracts the attention of several art critics. Aurier praises Bonnard in an article titled ‘The Symbolist Painters’, calling him ‘a delightful decorative artist, as skilful and ingenious as any Japanese and capable of adorning all the ugly things in our lives with the ingenious and shimmering foliage of his imagination. Apart from many fine paintings of his, he has some admirable posters, screens and frontispieces …’
1893 | He starts working on the illustrations for his brother-in-law’s Petit solfège and Petites scènes familières and paints the first portraits of Andrée and Claude’s children. The co-editor of La Revue blanche Thadée Natanson — who had founded the magazine together with his brothers Alexandre and Alfred in 1891 — marries Misia Godebska and Bonnard paints several portraits of the couple. He meets Maria Boursin, who calls herself Marthe de Méligny; she becomes his model and lifelong companion. He meets the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (through Denis), who would edit many of Bonnard’s lithographs.
1894 | Bonnard is active in the Nabi group, with exhibitions and collaborations for the Parisian arts magazine La Revue blanche;he designs a famous poster for this magazine.
1895 | On 22 November Bonnard’s father dies. Bonnard participates in a competition organised by the Union des Arts Décoratifs to design a set of dining-room furniture.
1896 | First solo exhibition at the Galerie Durand-Ruel, comprising 56 works. Bonnard, Sérusier, Vuillard, Ranson and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec work closely with the dramatist Alfred Jarry on stage-sets, puppets and illustrations for Ubu-Roi, first performed on 10 December by the Théâtre de l’Œuvre at the Salle du Nouveau Théâtre in Montmartre. Bonnard’s brother-in-law, Claude Terrasse, had composed the music. The Nabis exhibit for the last time with Le Barc de Boutteville, who dies soon after.
1898 | Bonnard collaborates in the design of puppets for a performance of Ubu-Roi by the Théâtre des Pantins (Puppet Theatre) founded by Jarry, Franc-Nohain and Terrasse. He starts working on a series of paintings on the theme of the nude and begins taking photographs of his family and Marthe.
1899 | He visits Lake Como, Venice and Milan with Vuillard and Roussel. Publishes lithographs in Some Aspects of Paris Life (Quelques Aspects de la viede Paris), edited by Ambroise Vollard. Moves to a new studio at 65, rue de Douai, near the place Pigalle.
1900 | Bonnard exhibits with his Nabi friends at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. The gallery, run by the brothers Joseph (Josse) and Gaston, will represent Bonnard in the future. It acquires the large group portrait A Family Afternoon (Musée d’Orsay), which Bonnard had painted at Le Grand-Lemps and which exists in a second version, The Terrasse Family, created in 1902. Bonnard paints Siesta and Vollard publishes Paul Verlaine’s Parallèlement, illustrated by Bonnard with 109 lithographs and 9 woodcuts. He starts exploring the outskirts of Paris, painting in the Seine valley and renting a house at 5, rue de la Montaigne, at Montval, near Marly-le-Roi, where he takes a series of nude photographs of Marthe.
1901 | Travels to Spain with Vuillard and the Romanian princes Antoine and Emmanuel Bibesco.
1902 | Vollard publishes an edition of Daphnis et Chloé by Longus with 156 illustrations by Bonnard.
1904 | During summer he stays at Varengeville on the Normandy coast.
1905 | Travels extensively from 1905 to 1910, visiting Belgium, Holland and England.
1906 | Visits Aristide Maillol at Banyuls, on the Mediterranean coast close to the Spanish border. Together with Maurice Ravel and Pierre Laprade, he travels to Belgium and Holland on the yacht of Misia (Natanson) and Alfred Edwards (Misia’s new husband, a wealthy newspaper magnate). Misia commissions four decorative panels, including Pleasure: Decorative Panel or Games. The American collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein, who had come to Paris and were very much interested in modernist art, acquire Bonnard’s nude Siesta and hang it with works by Pablo Picasso in their Paris apartment. First solo exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, comprising 41 works.
1908 | Travels with Vuillard to London and later to Tunisia and Algeria. Moves to a new apartment at 49, rue Lepic. Produces illustrations for Octave Mirbeau’s La 628-E8.
1909 | In summer Bonnard follows the example of other painters of his generation whose art has been strongly influenced by the light and nature of the Mediterranean Côte d’Azur — Paul Signac, Henri Matisse, Henri Manguin and Albert Marquet — and paints for the first time in Saint-Tropez. He returns almost every year to the South of France, staying in Saint-Tropez, Grasse, Antibes and Le Cannet.
1910 | The collector Ivan Morozov commissions decorative works for his house in Moscow from Denis, Bonnard and Maillol. Bonnard rents a studio at 21, quai Voltaire. He stays in Saint-Tropez in September.
1911 | Bonnard travels to Saint-Tropez again, where he stays three times during this year. In Paris he moves to a new studio at 22, rue Tourlaque. He completes his famous monumental triptych Mediterranean for Morozov. Morozov is delighted and immediately commissions two additional panels based on the seasons, entitled Early Spring in the Country and Autumn, Fruit Harvest, which Bonnard completes in 1912 (The State Pushkin Museum, Moscow). Paints Place Clichy for the dining room of his friend and art critic George Besson, whom he had met in 1909.
1912 | Spends January to April in southern France: Grasse, Saint-Tropez and Antibes. In August he acquires a small house, Ma Roulotte (My Caravan), at Vernonnet, a village on the Seine west of Paris, close to Vernon and only a few kilometres west of Giverny, where Monet had been living and working for almost 30 years. In Vernonnet he starts to paint interiors with views through open windows and doors onto the surrounding garden. He rents a house at 40, rue Voltaire, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye outside Paris, where he was to spend the years of World War I.
1913 | Bonnard travels with Vuillard to Hamburg at the invitation of Alfred Lichtwark, the director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, where he paints two seascapes with yachts.
1914 | Spends the first two months of the year in Saint-Tropez.
1915 | Works mostly in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Vernonnet.
1916 | Starts designing four decorative panels for Josse and Gaston Bernheim’s Paris home, completed in 1920. He relocates to a new apartment at 56, rue Molitor, in Auteuil. Visits his Swiss friends and collectors Arthur and Hedy Hahnloser-Bühler in Winterthur and shows 15 paintings — many belonging to his Swiss friends and their families — at the Kunstverein Winterthur in an exhibition of contemporary French art.
1917 | Works for the first months of the year in Cannes. The Hahnloser-Bühlers commission a decorative panel for the living room of their home in Winterthur (which is now the Museum Villa Flora, Winterthur).
1918 | Works in Vernonnet at Ma Roulotte and paints The Terrace, the first of a group of landscapes painted from the terrace of his new house, showing a panoramic view of the garden. He meets Renée Monchaty and asks her to model for him. Works in Antibes where he rents a house and paints The Bowl of Milk during the winter of 1918–1919.
1919 | Bonnard’s mother dies on 16 March.
1920 | From February to April Bonnard visits the spa town of Arcachon in south-west France. He designs the stage sets for Jeux by Claude Debussy for a Swedish ballet company, with Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role. From December he spends the winter in Saint-Tropez with the painter Manguin.
1921 | In March he travels to Rome and the surrounding area with his model Renée Monchaty. Visits archaeological sites, historical buildings and museums and makes various sketches he later uses for his paintings.
1922 | Visits Cannes in February and later Le Cannet. Travels to Arcachon where he spends August and September. Bonnard is represented at the Venice Biennale. He abandons photography.
1923 | Paints in Le Cannet, Vernonnet and Paris.
1924 | First comprehensive retrospective of his œuvre at Galerie E. Druet, comprising 68 paintings from 1890 to 1922. In his review of the show, Elie Faure writes of Bonnard: ‘Like the rarest artist, he gives the impression of having invented painting.’ Bonnard spends some time at Le Cannet at the Villa Le Rêve, where he spends much of 1925. Relocates to his new Paris apartment at 48, boulevard des Batignolles.
1925 | Bonnard marries Marthe on 15 August. His model and lover Renée Monchaty commits suicide on 9 September.
1926 | In February he buys a house — Le Bosquet (The Grove) — at Le Cannet on the hillside above Cannes. He completes some renovation work. Travels to America and visits Pittsburgh where he has been appointed as a jury member of the Carnegie International Exhibition. Travels to Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Washington where he meets Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, his most prominent American patrons.
1927 | Stays in Arcachon, leaves for Paris and Cannes. Bonnard’s nephew Charles Terrasse publishes a monograph on Bonnard. In May Bonnard acquires a piece of land adjoining the garden of Le Bosquet at Le Cannet.
1928 | Bonnard has his first solo exhibition in America, at the De Hauke Gallery in New York. He travels between Arcachon, Paris, Vernon and Vichy.
1930 | In the exhibition ‘Paintings in Paris from American Collections’ at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (January–February), seven paintings by Bonnard are included. From October to January 1931 he has his first solo museum exhibition, at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington. In November he stays at the Villa Castellamare in the Ville d’Hiver at Arcachon.
1931 | Remains in Arcachon until 15 April. Returns to Paris and works during the summer in Vernonnet and in autumn at Le Cannet, which from then on becomes his favourite working place and, in 1939, his permanent home, where he will paint more than 200 paintings, mostly interiors and Mediterranean landscapes.
1932 | Works from January to April at Le Cannet, thereafter in Vernonnet and in September again at Le Cannet.
1933 | Spends the winter at Le Cannet. Moves to Arcachon and stays at La Baule in Brittany from November to December, thereafter relocates to his new Paris apartment at 16bis, rue Caulincourt.
1934 | Solo exhibition at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York. Works mostly along the Normandy coast, in Bénerville-Blonville, Trouville and Deauville. In November he returns to Le Cannet.
1935 | Travels in April from Le Cannet to Trouville, London, Vernon and Deauville.
1936 | Works in Deauville for most of the year and starts to paint his famous series of nudes in a bathtub, pursuing this theme in the years to follow. He drives to Le Cannet in September and remains there until 12 December.
1937 | Spends most of the year in Deauville, where he gives an interview to Ingrid Rydbeck, which is published in Konstrevy in Stockholm, saying: ‘Colour has a logic as exact as that of form. One must not give up before capturing that first impression.’
1938 | Spends February to May at Le Cannet, then travels back to Deauville and from there to Vernonnet where he sells Ma Roulotte.
1939 | Travels from Le Cannet to Paris, where he occupies a new apartment at 2, place de la Porte-des-Ternes. He has an exhibition of 51 paintings in Stockholm. Stays for the last time in Normandy, at Trouville. Moves from Paris to Le Cannet in September where he remains until the end of World War II.
1940 | Stays at Le Bosquet in Le Cannet, where Matisse visits him. During the war years, Bonnard becomes preoccupied with fate. He pursues his dialogue with nature, but feels his surroundings have become narrow and considers himself a ‘voyager around the neighbourhood’. At the end of May he writes to his close friend Vuillard: ‘There have been so many frightening events since your last letter that I haven’t had the strength to write to you sooner. It would appear that the threat on Paris is momentarily pushed back, and you must be breathing more easily there. To me, Paris is much linked to you, and I hope that life will remain bearable there. Until now, I have found many resources in nature which is very rich this time of year and not arid at all. There is tall grass, poppies, and much fresh vegetation that has escaped the great cataclysm. I also have work in progress that still fascinates me.’ Edouard Vuillard dies at La Baule on 21 June.
1941 | The photographer André Ostier visits Bonnard at Le Cannet. In March Bonnard’s brother, Charles, dies in Algeria.
1942 | Marthe dies on 26 January. Bonnard is overwhelmed by great sadness and despair and feels very isolated. He no longer records the weather conditions in his diary.
1943 | Maurice Denis dies on 2 November.
1944 | Death of Ker-Xavier Roussel in June and, on 24 September, of Aristide Maillol. Bonnard’s deep sadness is expressed in the anguished self-portraits he paints during the war years. Painting becomes a way of surviving the distress: ‘What would a painter be without painting?’
1945 | Bonnard paints his last paintings, among them Self-Portrait, Landscape at Le Cannet with Red Roof and Almond Tree in Blossom. After the end of the war in May, he travels to Paris in July, for the first time since 1939. Returns at the end of the year to Le Cannet with his niece Renée. Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs Bonnard in his studio.
1946 | Travels to Fontainebleau and Paris to visit his large summer exhibition of 36 paintings, covering the period from 1898 to 1945, at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. The photographers Brassaï and Gisèle Freund visit Bonnard at Le Cannet and photograph the artist in his studio. One of the last notes in his diary underlines Bonnard’s strong belief in a positive reception of his painting in future years: ‘I hope my painting will endure without craquelure [cracking]. I should like to present myself to the young painters of the year 2000 with the wings of a butterfly.’
1947 | Pierre Bonnard dies on 23 January at Le Cannet. A few months after his death a large exhibition is organised at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.
1948 | The Museum of Modern Art in New York, in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art, organises a large solo exhibition, which takes place in the two museums between March and September.
Chronology extracted from the Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature exhibition catalogue
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The Pierre Bonnard works on this page are reproduced with the permission of|
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