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Art In London

Visiting Bonnard at Tate Modern



So lucky me!


This month it's my birthday and I got a trip to London for my present! Bill and I stayed with friends in Chelsea, a college friend of Bill's -who got us tickets for the Tate Modern - Tate Britain. First stop Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) at the modern, i feel I know him as an old friend I've been a fan for so long. The way he paints with little dabs of colour is so touching and creates an emotional charge that makes me feel happy to be in the world. Picasso called him just 'an eye' ... he was the opposite of the egoistic Pablo and seems to have been a sensitive and timid guy, though determined in his methods, he slowly built up shimmering paintings on canvas he tacked to the wall. He made tiny sketches in notebooks (often old unused diary pages)- he also used photographs, there were some tiny black and white images of Pierre and Marthe (his lifelong partner and muse) posing naked in their garden.

Memories of the initial response an image made on his retina - was one of his most important guides. He wanted to suggest the sensation one feels on entering a room, light filtering through, picking out the forms in colour. He talked about peripheral as opposed to foveal vision, recreating the true way we sense a scene with ambient uncertain vision, in the larger area outside the central focus. He told a visitor to his studio, in the French countryside, that the coloured foil sweet wrappers pinned to the wall were to remind him of 'scintillations'. To stand in front of his garden paintings, or dream like interiors - full of saturated colour harmonies - is to feel a heightened sensation of being alive in this world.

Bonnard builds up 'Mes petit taches' - "my little stains' into mutiple layers of coloured dots, capturing a moment in time made forever present and flickering like a memory . He painted intimate interiors, like the table set for breakfast, the figure (often Marthe) unobtrusive in the weave of coloured suffused forms, the fleeting moment imprinted with its own eternity.

The most famous of Bonnard's motifs is the image of Marthe bathing, either washing or standing naked in front of a mirror, glorious sensual depictions of a petite woman who never seems to grow old, an idealized  image of the 'everywoman'. In his mature years he painted " nude in the Bath' 1936 -Marthe lying length ways in the bath (they installed a modern bathroom in 'Le Cannet' their country house). These take on the effect of a memorial, their composition reminded me of stone effigies in cathedrals, noble couples in eternal repose. The stunning example in the Tate show has all the shimmering dots that Bonnard has made his own, he depicts the body lying horizontal under water, ( a Provencal Ophelia) the glittering blue gold tiles of the bathroom floor, dissolving the scene in areas where the light is most intense, into waves of soft colour that seem to move and vibrate in the sunlight.

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