Pierre Bonnard French, 1867-1947


Pierre Bonnard was French a painter, illustrator and printmaker. He was a leading figure of the group "Les Nabis" and played a pivotal role in the transition from impressionism to modernism.


Pierre Bonnard started painting at a young age.  Expected by his family to take up a career in government, he attended university while studying painting at the Academie Julian during his spare time. There he met Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson and Paul Sérusier with whom he founded in 1898, the group known as the 'Nabis', after the Hebrew "nebiim"meaning prophet.  Two friends from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Edouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel, joined them soon afterwards, followed a few years later by Jan Verkade, Aristide Maillol and Félix Vallotton. The Nabis presented themselves as "students of Gauguin". They emulated the synthetist and cloisonnist style that the great painter developed in Pont-Aven as a result of his fruitful exchanges with Emile Bernard, and which Paul Sérusier, who was head student at Académie Julian at the time, helped popularise.  Bonnard, however, did not embrace the Nabis' symbolist and spiritualistic inclinations and kept only their formal innovations. During his first Nabi period, Bonnard simplified his line, experimented with curves and expressive deformations, intensified his colours and accentuated his outlines.  He paid no attention to light and deliberately avoided effects of modelling and perspective. Inspired by the Japanese prints of Hokusaï, he painted oriental silk screens and produced lithographs and illustrations for books.

Discovering light later in his career, Bonnard began to use more realistic perspective and lightened his palette to create soft, delicate atmospheres, in which the details tend to form decorative patterns: "My entire life, I have drifted between intimism and decorative art".


During World War I and the years immediately afterwards, Bonnard's painting edged increasingly closer to impressionism and farther away from the purely Nabi style of his early career, which was in deliberate reaction to impressionism. Increasingly, he focused on a limited range of favourite themes:  interiors, still lives, gardens and nudes in domestic settings.