Pierre Bonnard – Visions of Transcendence in the Domestic Life

While in New York in late March I had the opportunity to see the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pierre Bonnard, The Late Interiors. When I first walked into the room I was overwhelmed by his incandescent use of color. The golds, burnt oranges and fuchsias of his paintings cast a warm glow which drew me into his world. I felt a sense of transcendence through the day-to-day ordinary details of life; a bowl of fruit, a view through the window to the gardens outside, a table piled with books, a cat and a dog and often hovering on the edges of the paintings, almost non-existent in their translucence, are the figures. I was in awe of his mastery of color and his ability to express the spiritual nature of physical existence. Being with his work is like a meditation which helps to quiet the mind and connect one with the moment.

Dining Room on the Garden

Dining Room on the Garden

The notes accompanying the show emphasize the fact that Bonnard worked from memory. There was a small room which displayed volumes of his journals and sketches. Bonnard’s still lifes are more than still lifes of reality, they are his memories, his reflections on the passage of human life through what we call time. All of the elements of his work from this show indicate to me an artist who, on some level, was expressing the interconnectedness of life, the journey to transcendence in which we find ourselves and the indescribable beauty of spirit’s manifestation into this physical world.

During Bonnard’s life he was maligned by some of his more famous contemporaries. While Bonnard was focusing on the intense beauty of life his contemporaries were taking art apart and inventing cubism. They did not approve of Bonnard’s sensibility. “That is not painting, what he does,” Pablo Picasso said of Bonnard’s work, calling it “a potpourri of indecision.” Interestingly, although Picasso attacked him, Matisse admired and befriended him.

In his own way, Bonnard was a visionary painter, re-visioning reality. His compositions are as much abstract creations as are the works of his contemporaries Paul Klee or Joan Miro. But his views of domestic interiors have an emotional quality which convey the deep connection human life has to the sacred source from which we all come. Perhaps the fact that a world class museum like the Met put on this show indicates that the art world is beginning to let up on its obsession with form and concept over beauty and content.


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