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February 14, 2009

Artists and Photography - Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) was a French painter and printmaker.

Bonnard's paintings were much-influenced by various factors including the ideas of Paul Gauguin (who inspired the Nabis, of which Bonnard was a member), and Japanese prints (which became widely available and influential in Europe beginning in the 1860s), and photography.

According to Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Bonnard "did not begin photographic work in earnest until 1898." However, he had had his camera since the early 1890s and many of his peers, including his close friend, Vuillard, were enthusiastic photographers. So even though he may not have spent much time at it himself until 1898, Bonnard had for a long while been well aware of how photography had given us a new way to look at things and suggested new ways of painting them.

But these were just suggestions. Bonnard didn't copy photographs when he painted. He composed pictures, in fact, basically from his imagination and from memory. ("Bonnard explained that having the actual subject in front of him would distract him from his work. His art was always the result of an initial attraction to something: ‘If this attraction, this primary conception fades away, the painter becomes dominated solely by the motif, the object before him. From that moment he ceases to create his own painting.’" This quote is from an article entitled Bonnard: Observing Nature on the nga.gov.au site.

He might get something out of a photograph, but never more than a tidbit that would help him achieve the effect he wanted.

"It appears that he viewed his photographs as sketches; both were meant to inspire a mood or capture a fleeting movement for later reference." This quote is from the above-mentioned Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography, which has much more on Bonnard and photography.

But also Bonnard's compositions reflect a more general idea that was gleaned from photography by anyone who was familiar with a camera. In many of his pictures there is a "snapshot" look. Obviously these paintings were not composed to look like formal compositions of the past. Notice feet cut off at the bottom, or part of a person missing at the edge of a picture, for examples. Or very intimate subject matter that does not look as if it had been composed but, instead, had been "caught." The result is a casual look, as if something very "real" (a "slice of life") was captured and shown to us.

Because Bonnard's works are still under copyright, I can't show any of them on this post. There are many of his works shown on this page on the Metropolitan Museum of Art site. Click on a picture to see it in a larger size.

You can see a photograph of Bonnard on this site, and there is also an artistic (rather than personal and artistic) biography. Here, at AskART there is a more personal biography.

More Posts on this blog in series on artists and photography:

Edgar Degas and Photography
Degas and Photography - More
Eugène Delacroix and Photography
Édouard Vuillard and Photography
There will be more posts in this series, from time to time.

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