Bonnard was intimate with all the women he painted: he knew them, as it were, by hand. In his soft, blurred splotches of bright color lies the closeness of the caress, the insights the fingers have divined. Indeed, Bonnard did not... [more]
Bonnard was intimate with all the women he painted: he knew them, as it were, by hand. In his soft, blurred splotches of bright color lies the closeness of the caress, the insights the fingers have divined. Indeed, Bonnard did not ask his models to sit for long, if at all; from a brief sketch he filled in the details. The outline was enough for him -- the rest he knew from physical memory.
Bonnard's principle subject was his wife and companion of 30 years, Maria Boursin (known as Marthe). He knew how she moved, how she stood, how she walked and sat. Thus his paintings do not, like those of the Impressionists, seek to capture the fleeting instant: they express a domestic duration. Within one instant -- or one of Marthe's exquisitely self-contained poses -- a profound past inheres, and Bonnard painted the past as much as he painted the present.
His canvases are thick with time, saturated with numerous instants. There is no empty space in Bonnard's painting. The familiar milieu in which he worked allowed him to see space with the help of all the sensations he had experienced in it. The sheer number of these sensations finds expression in the density of colors, in contrasts both evanescent and stark. Bonnard's paintings reveal a plenum, a plane saturated with affects accumulated over time.
There is a tranquility here, a calmly erotic comfort that only a home setting makes possible. In most of her poses, Marthe seems not to notice that she is being painted. It is as if she has forgotten that she lives with an artist, that each of her moments with him might be objectified in a work. Despite all his hands-on experience, Bonnard succeeded in rendering himself effectively invisible; his paintings reveal him only in their suffusion of warmth.
A humble sensibility pervades his work -- a subtle, quiet, erotic contemplation. His women are eons away from the women of de Kooning, who express nothing but intense irritation. In Bonnard there are no acerbic edges, no jarring lines. Indeed, there are hardly any edges at all: Bonnard's objects bleed by gradations of color into their background. His canvases are lush continua, tranquil planes of domestic existence, which are composed slowly, constantly over time. [show less]