Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867–1947)
Oil on canvas
58 1/4 x 76 3/4 in. (148 x 194.9 cm)
Gift of Florence J. Gould, 1968 (68.1)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
After first studying law, Pierre Bonnard pursued art at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian (1888) in Paris. There, he met fellow art students Édouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis, with whom he formed the Nabis (189299), a group of young painters under the leadership of Paul Sérusier who followed Paul Gauguin's ideas about representing things symbolically in strong patterns and color. Shortly after 1900, Bonnard redirected his style of painting to more closely follow the Impressionist tradition, modified by his innate sense of decoration and design. He continued to use light to change the substance and color of form, but he preferred to paint in his studio rather than in the open air and structured his compositions with formal pattern. He so convincingly went beyond the limits of local color and the laws of natural perspective that in The Terrace at Vernonnet the boldness of his interpretation is barely noticeable. For example, we read the tree trunk that defines the foreground as a beautiful violet strip as well as a tree, and the foliage in the background merges into a tapestry of color.
Although Bonnard continued to paint the sights of Paris, he developed a passion for the countryside and the seasons. The daily intimacies of family life add warmth to his art (he was also referred to as an "Intimist"), but there is nothing casual in his presentation. He believed that in landscape the human figure "should be part of the background against which it is placed," and he deliberately controlled the viewer's eye. He knew exactly what he wanted us to see, but he didn't want everything in the picture to be evident at first glance. The composition of The Terrace at Vernonnet (1939) derives from a much earlier grisaille study (1920) and is one of the last views he painted of his house in the Seine valley.