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  • Pierre Bonnard
    Oct 03, 1867 - Jan 23, 1947
  • Blue Morning or Small River - Pierre Bonnard was a French painter who helped provide a bridge between impressionism and the abstraction explored by post-impressionists. He is known for the bold colors in his work and a fondness for painting elements of everyday life, member of the group of artists called the Nabis and afterward a leader of the Intimists; he is generally regarded as one of the greatest colourists of modern art.
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Blue Morning or Small River
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  • Blue Morning or Small River

  • Pierre Bonnard
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    Oil on canvas
    20 7/8 by 28 3/4 in.

    Through his involvement with the Nabis at the beginning of the century, Bonnard had grown accustomed to using decorative stylistic elements in his paintings, such as flattened patches of color and bold contours, which are resonant of Japanese culture and art. By this point in his artistic career, Bonnard was often referred to as le Nabi Japonard. His fascination with the art of the east was in part stimulated by an exhibition of Japanese art held at the école des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1890. Upon viewing this exhibition, Bonnard was intrigued by the fundamental simplicity of Japanese woodblock prints and bold use of color in large, unmodulated patches. By the time he painted the present work, the artist had developed a mature and singular style influenced strongly by those elements that had intrigued him at the école des Beaux-Arts exhibition and informed by the strong influence that Gauguin had over the Nabis. As Sarah Whitfield writes, Bonnard "makes us aware that the principal subject for the painter must be the surface which, as he says, 'has its colour, its laws over and above those of objects’" (Sarah Whitfield & John Elderfield, Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), London, Tate Gallery, 1998. p. 15).

    In this depiction of the southern French landscape, his use of this technique was extraordinarily effective in conveying the variations in the terrain. He uses interlacing patches of color to form the rushing water and the expanse of lush greens in the distance. As a landscape painter, Bonnard was always fascinated by light and color, and in the present work he beautifully renders the unique quality of light. Strongly taken by the luminosity and the atmosphere that engulfs the South of France, Bonnard explored the infinite variations of light, experimented with varying perspectives and the progressive changes of volumes and contours. As James Elliott observed, “Bonnard was essentially a colorist. He devoted his main creative energies to wedding his sensations of color from nature to those from paint itself—sensations which he said thrilled and even bewildered him. Perceiving color with a highly developed sensitivity, he discovered new and unfamiliar effects from which he selected carefully, yet broadly and audaciously... Whether in narrow range or multitudinous variety, the colors move across the surface of his paintings in constantly shifting interplay, lending an extraordinary fascination to common subject Familiar sights—the pervading greenness of a landscape, the intensification of color in objects on a lightly overcast day—are given vivid life” (James Elliott in Bonnard and His Environment (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1964, p. 25).

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Other paintings by Pierre Bonnard:

Before Dinner
Before Dinner
Boats in Port at Low Tide
Boats in Port at Low Tide
Boulevard de Clichy
Boulevard de Clichy
Pierre BonnardPierre Bonnard was a French Post-Impressionist painter remembered for his ability to convey dazzling light with juxtapositions of vibrant color. “What I am after is the first impression—I want to show all one sees on first entering the room—what my eye takes in at first glance,” he said of his work. Born on October 3, 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, Bonnard studied law at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1888. During this time, he was also enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts but left to attend the Académie Julian in 1889. At this more open-minded painting academy, Bonnard met Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, and Édouard Vuillard, among others. Together with these artists he helped from a group known as the Nabis, who were influenced by Japanese prints and the use of flat areas of color. Early on in his career, Bonnard was better known for his prints and posters than for his paintings. Moving to the South of France in 1910, over the following decades, Bonnard receded from the forefront of the art world, mainly producing tapestry-like paintings of his wife Marthe in their home. Late works of Bonnard, such as The Terrace at Vernonnet (1939), more closely resembled a continuation of Impressionism than other avant-garde styles of the era. Because of this, at the time of his death on January 23, 1947 in Le Cannet, France, the artist’s work had been largely discounted as regressive. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.