Pierre Bonnard's The Color of Memory

The Tate Modern's Pierre Bonnard survey The Color of Memory marks the first large scale exhibition for the artist in Britain for the first time in twenty years. The exhibition focuses on the artists' mature work from 1912 until his death in 1947. During this period the use of color became dominant in his body of work. In the 13 dedicated rooms, the visitor can indulge themselves amidst one hundred intensely hued scenes of interiors, his family, street scenes and landscapes. The paintings are supported by photographic documentation and film, that reveal an intimate portrayal of Pierre Bonnard's cultivated outlook.

Bonnard was one of the founding members of Les Nabis, a Post-Impressionist group, who were celebrated for their symbolist and spiritual approach in painting. The use of color and flatness of the composition forms central pillars in their art which can be seen in Bonnard's work. His vivid and bright compositions often derived from imagination, from memories of his own life and it reflected on certain prior important events. This meant that he would revisit his paintings time and again, sometimes it would take months to complete, sometimes even years. The show opens with the painting Woman in a Garden, an extreme example, that Bonnard started working on in 1921, but did not finish until 1946.

In the following rooms, the exhibition continues to unravel Bonnard's intimate world. He led a bohemian and unconventional lifestyle together with his partner Marte de Méligny, whom he met at the age of 25. The couple married after 30 years and, due to Marthe's health problems, they spent most of their time secluded in various places in the French countryside. They would capture many of moments of their life on camera of which a selection is included in the exhibition. Most of Bonnard's mature work depicts Marthe during her daily activities such as bathing or reading but are presented in an unconventional way. Throughout the exhibition, it becomes evident that photography is an important instrument for Bonnard to move away from traditional compositions and poses. This new 'photographic view' allowed Bonnard to develop his own artistic lexicon where the artist would approach the medium of painting from a completely new and fresh perspective. Many of the artist's pictures are painted from unusually high perspectives and strongly remind the viewer of a snap-shot image.

A few pictures are deliberately exhibited without their frame, a daring display that requires the visitor to take a closer look into Bonnard's painting technique. Bonnard did not paint from the easel but pinned his canvases directly onto the wall, drawing lines onto the canvas to indicate where the frame would meet the canvas. This allowed Bonnard to work on several paintings side by side and revisit them on several occasions. In The Bath, an intimate moment of Marthe taking one of her therapeutic baths is presented. Bonnard cuts the composition into horizontal fragments, separating the tiled wall, the figure in the bath, the rim and the floor. It reveals Bonnard contemporary ideas of turning the two-dimensional canvas into complex and flat structures.

Although Bonnard was a member of the Les Nabis, the survey shines light on the artist's individual approach to painting. Not only is Bonnard celebrated for his idiosyncratic painting style, but he is also regarded as an important colourist. The Color of Memory offers new perspectives on the artist's mature oeuvre and it is the first time in twenty years that Bonnard receives major institutional attention in Britain. The exhibition will later travel to the Kunstforum in Vienna and the Glyptoteket in Copenhagen.

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