Conversation, Remembrance

Bonnard: One tough son-of-a-bitch?

Mario Naves says Bonnard (1867-1947) is an artist beloved by many, but not by all. “His luminous pictures of fruit baskets, breakfast tables and keening, afternoon light have engendered surprising rancor. Only those ‘who know nothing about the grave difficulties of art,’ wrote art critic Christian Zervos shortly after Bonnard�s death, could admire pictures as ‘facile and agreeable.’ Picasso famously loathed Bonnard�s art: ‘That�s not painting, what he does.’ “In our own time, art historian Linda Nochlin fantasized about ‘plung[ing] a knife’ into a Bonnard canvas for its presumed feminist affronts. New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl described Bonnard�s paintings as ‘masturbatory’ and ‘eye candy.’

Writing in the catalog, art historian Jack Flam mentions how Bonnard has been dismissed as ‘lightweight.’ ‘Bourgeois’ is a common epithet. “Better abuse than neglect, but even then, Bonnard suffers. Mr. Flam points to the artist�s fortunes in the academy: ‘Many people who teach general courses in twentieth-century art simply leave him out.’ He traces Bonnard�s ‘invisibility’ primarily to narrow historical strictures. Sure, his innovative work with the Nabis is an important Modernist pit stop. But mostly, Bonnard was a mousy guy given to meditations on place, intimacy and loss. How sexy is that?”….Bonnard�s art unsettles, not least because its seductions are irresistible. He brought to the pictures a chromatic density seemingly contradictory to his feathery touch. Color smolders into fruition, gaining in luxuriance and acidity. Bonnard�s brush�skittering, self-effacing and relentless�glances upon objects, but puts them in the service of mood: We recognize things, but the image itself is suffused in a haze of paint. His sometimes infuriating modesty can�t disguise his aesthetic rigor.

As a painter, he was, as a friend notes, ‘one tough son-of-a-bitch.'”What to do about great artists whose peculiarities prevent them from efficient categorization and Major status? You can celebrate their underdog marginality or you can question the received wisdom. Bonnard may well piss off people because he�s no one�s idea of a revolutionary, but his mastery is irrefutable all the same. He�s just that good. “

Read more.

Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors,� Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Through April 19.


  1. it’s interesting. i checked your blog today, right after publishing this review – linked below – of the same exact show. al zaruba wrote the review, not me, but it’s an interesting contrast to what you have written.

    cara ober,

  2. OK so the guy had faults…

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