What I learned from the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, London
What I learned from the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, London

What I learned from the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, London

The exhibition takes us from 1900 to Bonnard’s death in 1947 and Bonnard was persistant, painting through wars and season upon changing season. He was prolific but not quick many of his paintings took him years to complete, I can imagine him revisiting paintings, re-assessing how the colours were working together and adding a few dabs of paint.

His figures are sometimes crude and other times delicate and ethereal, this is attributed to his technique of painting from memory. accurate figurative painting requires prolonged observation and this is simply not something Bonnard was interested in. He captured a ‘snatched moment’, the person is a part of the scene, as important as the chair or table. In an interview he said;

“The presence of the object, of the motif is extremely distracting for the painter when he is painting. As the point of departure for a painting is an idea – if the object is there at the moment one works on it, there is always the danger that the artist allows himself to be overtaken by the incidentals, the immediate, in direct sight and along the way loses the initial idea.”

In my opinion Bonnard’s  luscious and vibrant landscapes are where his painting from memory technique is used to best effect. His rich colour combinations are joyful and full of intuitive, instinctive feeling. He goes beyond natural colour, intensifying the scene and setting sharply contrasting colours alongside each other.

The lesson I came a way with was to trust my instincts, not to be afraid to paint from memory or my imagination and to take more risks with colour. Also to not get so absorbed in the subject of the painting that I ignore the sense of the painting as a whole.

My latest semi-abstract figurative paintings such as ‘First of the spring sunshine’ below demonstrate this evolution of thinking. This was painted entirely from my imagination and my intention was less about form and more about interpreting the feeling of the first warm sunshine of spring. You can clearly see Bonnard’s influence in my use of colour but I have incorporated it with my own style and intuition. I have found that visiting as many exhibitions as I can and learning from past masters can really enrich my work, so thank you Bonnard for the lesson!




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