At the Table of a Prophet : Notes on Bonnard

Oct. 3 is the birthday of a painter who elevated domestic life with dogs and cats to grand art.

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Bonnard, “Le Bol de lait/The Bowl of Milk,” c. 1919. Tate. CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported).

Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) brings us into the most intimate scenes of his life.

Yes, this French artist is famous for his paintings of his wife. Bonnard shows us Marthe in her bathtub. This is different from nude paintings of models stretched out on divans or standing in poses in studios. Bonnard’s Marthe is not only nude, but in what is normally a place of sanctuary and privacy.

Bonnard, “Baignoire (Le Bain), “ 1925. Tate, Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

But equally or perhaps even more intimate are the paintings where Bonnard puts us at his table.

We’re immersed in a home where pets share in the meals. It’s clear the Bonnard cat and dogs expect to get a bite from their humans’ plates.

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Bonnard, “The Red Checkered Tablecloth or The Dog’s Lunch, “1910, private collection, Switzerland. Wikigallery copy of image in public domain.
Bonnard, “(Femme au chien, ou Femme et chien à table/Woman and dog at table,” 1908. Barnes Foundation. Image in public domain.
Bonnard, “Le Café/Coffee,” 1915. Tate. Image in public domain. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
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Bonnard, “La femme au chat/Woman with cat,” c. 1912. Musée d’Orsay. ©photo musée d’Orsay / rmn of image in public domain.

Bonnard was part of a group of painters who called themselves the Nabis, taken from the Hebrew navi, meaning “prophet”). Formed around 1888 and lasting for about a decade, the Nabis championed the art of everyday life. Bonnard left us a wealth of pretty scenes depicting what he saw at home.

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Bonnard, “The Table,” c. 1925. Tate. Image in public domain. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
Bonnard, “La Fenêtre/The Window,” 1925. Tate. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

My bibliography on European artists includes a section on Bonnard with details and links to sources used in writing this essay. If the link is broken, please check my dooleyyoung.com site or send me a message.

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Journalist fascinated by art, history, medicine, politics and food. Has visited museums on six continents, eaten in more than 50 nations. Knows FDA, Congress.

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