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  • Pierre Bonnard
    Oct 03, 1867 - Jan 23, 1947
  • Figure under the Tree - 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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Figure under the Tree
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  • Figure under the Tree

  • Pierre Bonnard
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    circa 1925
    Oil on canvas
    Private Collection, France.

    Personnages sous un arbre exemplifies the daring use of colour and distinctive compositional devices that earned Bonnard his name of ‘Japanese Nabis’. Having visited an exhibition of Japanese Art at the école des Beaux-Arts in 1890, Bonnard was inspired to crop the compositions of his paintings, as if they were photographic negatives in the studio. Indeed photography was another passion of the artist, who purchased one of the first kodak cameras in the 1890s. In the present work, the expanse of foliage to the upper right and slither of wall towards the centre and lower right force the viewer’s eye to settle on the expanse of blue paint that intimately surrounds the eponymous figure. Such a radical compositional arrangement would have been inconceivable to an academically trained painter and it was the influence of the mass produced Japanese wood block print that enabled Bonnard to make this stylistic leap: ‘It was through the contact with these popular images that I realized that color could express anything, with no need for relief or modelling. It seemed to me that it was possible to translate light, forms, and character using nothing but color, without recourse to values’ (Bonnard quoted in Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Pierre Bonnard, Early and Late (exhibition catalogue), Washington, D. C., 2002, p. 202).

    As a central figure of the Nabis group, Bonnard had developed a distinctive use of colour, influenced by the flat areas of block colour with strong outlines as applied by Gauguin. The striking blues and yellows of the present work and the tree depicted solely in green are testament to this influence, but here we are also able to glimpse the influence of the Impressionists in the thick, individual brush marks and juxtapositions of pure colour. Bonnard describes the motives behind this process: 'When my friends and I decided to pick up the research of the Impressionists, and to attempt to take it further, we wanted to outshine them in their naturalistic impressions of colour. Art is not Nature. We were stricter in composition. There was a lot more to be got out of colour as a means of expression’ (quoted in Timothy Hyman, Bonnard, London, 1988, p. 65). Bonnard’s later oeuvre, of which Personnages sous un arbre is an excellent example, was extremely well received, with Gaston and Josse Bernheim representing him as dealers from 1906 and Paul Signac exclaiming after an exhibition at their gallery in 1933: 'Prodigious. The unexpectedness, the rarity, the novelty. I assure you, my dear Bonnard, that not since 1880 when I "discovered" Claude Monet, have I experienced such a strong artistic emotion. [...] What a lesson, what encouragement' (quoted in Bonnard at Le Bosquet (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London & Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 1994, p, 12).

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Other paintings by Pierre Bonnard:

Femme Accoudee avec Chien et Nature Morte
Femme Accoudee avec Chien et Nature Morte
Figures in the Street
Figures in the Street
Fish in a Dish
Fish in a Dish
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.