The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1867.10.03
Place of Birth: Fontenay-aux-Roses
Date of Death: 1947.01.23
Place of Death: Cannet


Pierre Bonnard grew up Grand-Lemps in the Isère. He studied law to please his father and in 1889, after graduating, was sworn in as a barrister. He had however already spent some time at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and later Académie Julian, where he was introduced to contemporary art circles. In 1893 he met the model, Maria (Marthe) Boursin, who featured in a great number of his works and whom he later married. He was successful in his own time, his works selling well but he chose to live modestly. He spent the early years of his career in Paris and although he kept a studio there he later lived in the country, moving frequently and staying away from other artists.


Pierre Bonnard, painter and lithographer, is likely to have been acquainted with Whistler around 1898. In 1891 he rejected law and began his career as an artist after selling the poster, France-Champagne (lithograph in three colours, 1891), which was highly praised. In 1892, he and some others from Académie Julian, formed the Nabis group. They took their inspiration from Gauguin and Japanese prints, while rejecting Impressionism and academic training. His early career was centred more on lithography and drawing, in the characteristic flickering and often colourful style, which was later incorporated into his painting.

In 1898 he is referred to in correspondence between Whistler and Albert Ludovici, in the run up the Knightsbridge exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers. Despite the initials Bonnard is given in the catalogue, 'T' and 'F' in different drafts, it seems likely that at least two of his lithographs were shown. One of these is likely to be his 1896 colour lithograph, The Laundry-Maid. It was published by Ambrose Vollard in the first Album des peintres-graveurs. The second print, which may have been in the exhibition is Le canotage (1897)- translated by the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers as Canoeing. This colour lithograph was published in the second Album d'estampes originales by the Galerie Vollard in 1897. Each of his plates was the result of a large number of preparatory sketches, and yet he is praised for the appearance of spontaneity and movement in his prints. It has been suggested that he returned to London the following year when he was invited to exhibit again at the ISSPG exhibition but there is little evidence to support this.

From around 1900, Bonnard began to focus his attention on painting, with a strong emphasis on colour, though he never lost sight of the importance of form and drawing. His painting has been compared to Whistler's, in its suggestion of uncertainty. Ideas on the vagueness and incompleteness of consciousness were popular at the time in the literature of Proust and Mallarmé. His work is also seen as significant because he emphasises the paint and the painted surface.


Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, 1956-61; 'Introduction' by Antoine Terrasse in Francis Bouvet's, Bonnard: The Complete Graphic Work, Thames and Hudson, London, 1981; John Langton, 'Bonnard, Pierre', The Oxford Companion to Western Art, Hugh Brigstocke (ed.), Oxford University Press, 2001, Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2005, (accessed July 2005); Helen Langdon, 'Nabis', The Oxford Companion to Western Art, Hugh Brigstocke (ed.), Oxford University Press, 2001, Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2005, (accessed July 2005); 'Bonnard, Pierre', Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, (accessed july 2005); Antoine Terrasse, 'Bonnard, Pierre', Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, (accessed July 2005); Antoine Terrasse, Bonnard/Vuillard: Correspondance, Gallimard, 2001; Sarah Whitfield, 'Fragments of an Identical World' in Sarah Whitfield and John Elderfield, Bonnard, Tate Gallery Publishing, London, 1998.