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  • Pierre Bonnard
    Oct 03, 1867 - Jan 23, 1947
  • Cinq Personnages - 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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Cinq Personnages
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  • Cinq Personnages

  • Pierre Bonnard
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  • circa 1915
    Oil on canvas

    Capturing the Zeitgeist of the time, Pierre Bonnard reveled in seizing the vast array of characters inhabiting the modern city and Cinq personnages is an inventive and colorful depiction of a bustling street scene in Paris circa 1915. The spectacle of urban modernity provided a colorful source of inspiration, and the artist was fascinated by the variety of subjects it offered: street sellers, elegant bourgeois ladies, old-fashioned and modern modes of transport, and urban architecture. Bonnard shared this fascination with the city with Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists, including Caillebotte, Monet and Pissarro, all of whom executed a number of works depicting Parisian boulevards, squares and bridges, usually characterized by a sense of the rich and varied life of the city. Through their works, each of these artists remarkably provided a snippet of a changing world, away from the provincial experience of local life into the observation of a Haussmanized, new, Paris, radically changing both the cityscape and the way humans interact, navigate and experience the city.
    Cinq personnages depicts a busy crossing in Paris. In an extremely modern perspective in the composition, the artist has included numerous figures all captured with a remarkable sense of movement, reflecting Bonnard's fascination with the energy and dynamic life of the metropolis. Gustave Geffroy commented on Bonnard’s work: "no-one is quicker than Bonnard to seize the look of our Parisian streets, the silhouettes of a passer-by and the patch of colour which stands out in the Metropolitan mist. [He] seizes on all the momentary phenomena of the street, even the most fugitive glances are caught and set down" (Gustave Geffroy, quoted in Pierre Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1996, p. 16). In Cinq personnages the figures are closely portrayed almost as if about to run into each other at any moment. However, each is extremely isolated, all headed in different directions, capturing the physical proximity but emotional distance of the figures. Each woman is elegantly portrayed with fashionable hats, disturbed perhaps by the presence of the only male figure in the composition in a bowler hat and a cane stick, the epitome of the bourgeois strolling about town. Most of the figures seem to be absorbed in their own thoughts, placing the viewers as voyeurs to the scene. Our gaze however captures that of the beautiful young lady in a light blue wide-brimmed hat decorated by flowers, her hat obscuring the sun, her eyes into sudden darkness, but placing her profile in a dramatic chiaroscuro effect highlighting her delicate features. Such sudden locking of the gaze almost interrupts and freezes the scene, and Bonnard successfully creates a balance between speed and the frenzy of the modern world highlighted by the rich and dense composition, and the silent, solitary moment of a quiet glance, highlighted by the lady looking out to the viewer.

    Returning to this subject throughout his career, Bonnard's city scenes reflect a certain joie de vivre achieved through the sparing use of bright tones and a strong sense of energy and movement. The present work positions the viewer at street level and with this seemingly nonchalant perspective suggests a chance momentary glimpse, rather than a carefully staged ensemble, thereby, further adding to the sense of the fleeting urban life.

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Other paintings by Pierre Bonnard:

Nude Dressing
Nude Dressing
Portrait of a Young Woman with Hat
Portrait of a Young Woman with Hat
Woman at a Table
Woman at a Table
The Bathtub
The Bathtub
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.