Connect with us – Art History Stories

Pierre Bonnard: Bringing Color to Life

Pierre Bonnard, Bath, 1925, Tate, London, UK.

Artists' Stories

Pierre Bonnard: Bringing Color to Life

When I was writing the article about the Nabis, I came across the past Tate exhibition on Pierre Bonnard which closed in May 2019. Let’s reminiscence a bit longer on the colors and hues of his paintings and let’s talk a little about his life, which was not as serene as it may seem.


Pierre Bonnard, Self portrait in a shaving mirror, 1935, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris, France.

Bonnard worked on several paintings at the same time, he tacked entire rolls of canvas to all walls of his studio and would paint directly on them and when a painting was finished, he would just cut the piece completed. His style of painting was criticised by Picasso who expressed frustration at Pierre’s need to work over again the same painting, by saying: “Painting … is a matter of seizing the power.”

Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard, Window, 1925, Tate, London, UK.


Pierre Bonnard, Nude in a Bath, 1936, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, France.

They met when she was 24 and he was 26. She claimed to be much younger though and didn’t want to reveal her real name because Marthe de Méligny was her work-pseudonym. She told Pierre she was really called Maria Boursin when they married in 1925, 32 years after they met (living together as an unmarried couple was pretty controversial for their time).

Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard, Nude in a Bathtube, 1935, private collection.

They remained together for fifty years and Marthe became a central figure of Pierre’s work, captured during her daily activities like bathing or dressing (Marthe suffered from a tubercular condition and needed to bathe daily). The dreamy scenes construct an almost idyllic image of their life together although the reality was less dreamy: Pierre had many affairs with younger women (maybe when Marthe was away on many of her spa sojourns?). One of his lovers, Renée Monchaty, committed suicide when Bonnard married de Méligny in August 1925 (having proposed to Monchaty in 1923 to later break the engagement).


Pierre Bonnard, Coffee, 1915, Tate, London, UK.

Bonnard used photography as a tool to move away from conventional modeling and composition: many snapshots from daily life can be traced later in his paintings. If we take into consideration that he hardly ever painted from life, photos served as a great aid to capture the moment of inspiration.


Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard, Girl with a parrot, 1910, private collection.

Bonnard bought his first car in 1911, which let him and Marthe explore the countryside around Paris. He regularly visited his mother at Le Grand-Lemps in the Dauphiné, south-east France, and Claude Monet at Giverny. With time, Bonnard and Marthe spent summers at their house in Normandy and then part of every winter in the south. They would stop at Arcachon on the Atlantic coast or Deauville.

Pierre Bonnard, Summer, 1931, Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia.

From 1927 onward Pierre would spend even more time in the south, which we can see in his work (he would just roll up his canvases and take them with him on a journey). Warm light and intensity of orange, red and yellow suggest the bliss he was experiencing when looking at the southern landscapes. However, once when critics titled him as a “painter of happiness,” Bonnard noted, “he who sings is not always happy.”

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.


More in Artists' Stories

  • 20th century

    Painting of the Week: Robert Delaunay, The Red Tower


    When people speak of Paris, images of Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and Musée du Louvre flash into the imagination. And for good reason, as they are absolute must-see sites. Fresh croissants, fabulous chocolate, and fine perfume fill the senses with pleasure as you peruse this lovely...

  • Abstraction

    An Andalusian Dog – Surrealist Film of Dalí and Buñuel


    Quarantine is already distressing us, but An Andalusian Dog is always a good tip. Above all, the movie and Surrealism, show us how art can ease harsh realities and yet be real. The Surrealist Movement and the Cinema An Andalusian Dog belongs to the Surrealist movement which...

  • Zaretskyi Self-portrait Zaretskyi Self-portrait

    20th century

    Viktor Zaretsky: The Oeuvre of the Ukrainian Gustav Klimt


    Viktor Zaretsky is often called the Ukrainian Gustav Klimt. In fact, the influence of Klimt on the artworks of this Ukrainian artist is quite obvious. However, this does not mean that he just copied the works of the Austrian. Zaretsky developed his own artistic language, which...

  • Vincent Van Gogh, The Sower, 1888 Vincent Van Gogh, The Sower, 1888

    19th Century

    Vincent van Gogh Copying Other Artists


    Vincent van Gogh is famous nowadays for two things. Firstly, his unstoppable creativity – he produced 2,100 artworks in just over a decade. And, secondly, his struggles with his mental health. The famous ear incident was the catalyst for him admitting himself into the Saint-Remy Asylum,...

  • 20th century

    The Art of Adolf Hitler: Idyllic Paintings of a Monster


    Adolf Hitler is one of history’s most infamous dictators. After coming to power as Führer of Nazi Germany, he and his followers were responsible for the deaths of millions, not to mention the world’s greatest mass theft and destruction of priceless artworks. However, what you may...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy