Pierre Bonnard – The Colour of Memory

Tate Modern's blockbuster new exhibition is promising to bring the French master of colour to a whole new audience. Peter Gray reports.

Pierre Bonnard The Colour of Memory

This timely exhibition at the Tate Modern will enable a whole new generation of art lovers to fall under the spell of French master Pierre Bonnard.

The artist is well known for his remarkable treatment of colour and for his innovative compositions however The Colour of Memory represents the first major exhibition of the artist’s work since a similar show at the Tate 20 years ago.

The show focuses on the artist’s work in the years between 1912 until 1947 when the artist passed away. The show hones in on the period in which Bonnard established his reputation for the manipulation of colour, such a key feature of his work.

The exhibition has been organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen and Kunstforum Wien.

Bonnard was born in 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine. As the son of an important official from the French Ministry of War, young Pierre lived a comfortable and carefree youth which saw him studying the classics for his baccalaureate.

To please his father, the young would be artist progressed to studying law and Bonnard briefly worked as a barrister. However, the pull of the art world proved to strong, and Bonnard soon gravitated towards art after a spell attending the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and Académie Julian.

Bonnard quickly made a name for himself in his new career, showing his work at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants before earning a first solo show at the Galerie Durand Ruel in 1986.
Indeed, the art critic Claude Roger-Marx said of Bonnard: “he catches fleeting poses, steals unconscious gestures, crystallises the most transient expressions”.

Bonnard became a member of a loose association of avant-garde artists called Les Nabis. The group were determined to revolutionize art by creating work that had a spiritual and symbolic dimension. The movement was short lived but made an impression on the French art world in the early 1890s.

In the years that followed, Bonnard began to gain plaudits for his skilful handling of colour and for the clever way he arranged his compostions.
His compositions during this period veritably shimmer with colour: bold blues, yellows, gorgeous greens and mellow mauves – all feature in his work of the period.

Some of these works are abstracted to such a degree that they feel unreal. However, the magic of Bonnard is that it still works. What few knew or could guess at however was that the artist rarely painted from life, instead using his memory and copious notes to recreate scenes he had only fleetingly seen at some earlier point.

“I have all my subjects to hand”, he said, “I go back and look at them. I take notes. Then I go home. And before I start painting I reflect, I dream.” This technique also allowed him a degree of poetic licence and may have contributed to his imaginative use of colour.

Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory is at Tate Modern from Wednesday January 23 2019 until Monday May 6 2019.

More information on the exhibition can be found here.

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What: new exhibition
When: This event has ended
Where: Tate Modern
Website: Pierre Bonard