Throughout his life Pierre Bonnard commuted between city and country and spent many months at his residences "Ma Roulotte" in Vernonnet and "Le Bosquet" in Le Cannet near Cannes on the Côte d'Azur. Apart from luminously colored views of the gardens there, it was especially scenes in the houses' interiors which he depicted in ever-new combinations of color and space. By including mirrors and open windows and doors, Bonnard succeeded in visually expanding the defined canvas area and linking interior with exterior space.
At the Fondation Beyeler, this linking of image and space is illustrated through an evocation of Bonnard's ideal house, the "Maison imaginaire". Visitors stroll along "La Rue" (The Street), then enter a room devoted to the theme of the "Salle à manger" (Dining Room). We obtain intimate glimpses of the "Salle des bains" (Bathroom), and the shimmering images in "Le Miroir", a room featuring one of Bonnard's favorite accessories. Then come three rooms devoted to his gardens: "Le Jardin". The tour ends with "Intérieur - Extérieur", illustrating the transition between interior and exterior which was a central theme of Bonnard's art.
Place Clichy, 1906/07
The Les Batignolles quarter in northern Paris is a favorite site of numerous early works of Bonnard’s. Especially the bustling Place Clichy appears regularly in his paintings. The two on view here give the impression of snapshots. In this 1912 painting, we feel drawn into the bustling market and invited to haggle with the ladies in the foregound over their wares. Yet are we really standing in the street? Note the strange crossbeam at the upper edge of the picture—looking closely, we can recognize the reversed sign of a brasserie, the Brasserie Wepler. Bonnard lets the viewer of this work look out onto the street through the slightly fogged window of his favorite café. Place Clichy is only one of many paintings in which the artist employs a little trick to provide an unconventional view of an everyday scene.
Le Café, 1915
This famous painting from the Tate London is characterized not only by a striking color scheme but an unusual excerpt of the scene. A full two-thirds of the composition is occupied by the red and white checked tablecloth. At the upper edge appear two figures whose heads are cut off by the picture edge. This serves to direct an unusual amount of attention to the dog with its forepaws on the table next to the lady in bright yellow. Further details such as the bluish shadow of the chair and the coffee pot perched at the extreme edge of the table reflect Bonnard’s love of unconventional depictions of details from everyday life.
Décor à Vernon (La Terrasse à Vernon), ca. 1920/1939
Bonnard made a sketch for this painting in 1920 in Vernonnet, a small town near Vernon in Normandy, where he frequently visited Claude Monet in neighboring Giverny. The painting, however, was not finished until 1939, when he was spending the last years of his life in the sunny South of France. Using an unconventional palette of orange, bluish-red and purple gradations, he presents the entire magnificence of his garden in Vernonnet. Especially striking is the tree trunk running through the left half of the composition. In addition to the characteristic landing leading to a lower level of the garden, the scene teems with people, talking, playing badminton, picking fruit, or simply musing, like the figure in the middle.
Le Cabinet de toilette au canapé rose (Nu à contre-jour), 1908
The Dressing Room with Pink Sofa (Female Nude in Backlight) Bright sunlight filtering through translucent curtains illuminates this interior, shines on the pink sofa in the background and shimmers on the body of the nude young woman—Marthe. But the light is not the only admirable feature of the composition. Marthe, apparently spraying on perfume, is partially reflected in the mirror over the dressing table. That is, we see her not only from behind but from in front, in the pose of an ancient statue of Venus. In addition, the mirror reflects a chair at the back of the room. For Bonnard, mirrors were an important accessory, employed to expand the space visually and symbolically, and to depict interiors, figures and objects in a richness of facets.
Grande Salle à manger sur le jardin, 1934/35
Bonnard portrays the dining room in “La Bosquet”, his residence in Le Cannet, in a festival of color. The seemingly randomly arranged things on the table—fruit bowls, carafes, a bouquet of flowers—give the impression of time having come to a standstill. Only on closer scrutiny can we make out the contours of the round table and distinguish the chair from the window mullions. While the window provides a view of the brilliant landscape and the Mediterranean, the female figure at the right edge appears to merge with the twilight in the room.