I knew nothing about this exhibition before I went see it because I had never heard of Bonnard. What drew me in was the poster outside the front of the NGV and the name India Madhvi. Oh and my poetry friend George raved about it. That helped.
When I got into the exhibition I was a little surprised to learnt that Bonnard was an impressionist French painter who was considered one of the greats. I have to say that as much as I appreciate this style, I've seen rather a lot of white, male artists painting blurred images. Where's the rest of the world beyond Europe? Where are the folks who don't identify as male?
Where Bonnard stood out for me however was that he painted domestic interiors and also nudes of himself. Most male painters have been obsessed with the female form and I am sick of the objectification of women. Hew as also invested in the portrayal f street life and called it 'the theatre of the everyday'.
Bonnard was also an early adopter of photography and took many selfies! He was alive when cinema first began and the exhibition included vintage footage from his friends, the Lumière brothers, shot in France in the 1809s. Seeing ordinary people on the streets of Paris in their old fashioned clothes was fascinating. A small glimpse into the everyday life of yesterday.
The exhibition features more than one hundred works by Bonnard and was created in partnership with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Many of my favourite pieces in the exhibition were created by his contemporaries including Vuillard.
I can see parallels with William Morris from the UK as Bonnard also designed fans, folding screens, posters, sets and costumes. And Bonnard even illustrated children's music primers for his brother-in-law who was a composer.
It's interesting to see an artist of the past straddling the fine art and commercial worlds in this way. When I think of artists, I tend to see them as non commercial, that is to say, not using their art to illustrate products, objects or furniture. Bonnard's approach is a much more pragmatic one ensuring he earns an income and also a more egalitarian one (whether he intended it to be or not) allowing his art to be affordable for everyone and not just hidden away on some collector's wall or in a museum's collection.
The NGV commissioned the celebrated architect and designer India Mahdavi to design the exhibition’s scenography. The New Yorker calls her a ‘virtuoso of colour’ and ‘possessor of perfect chromatic pitch’. According to the NGV website, 'Her singular approach to colour, structure and texture has resulted in numerous acclaimed projects, including commissions for hotels, restaurants and retail...'
My favourite section of the exhibition was the latter half with theitsbold coloured walls, carpets, chairs and lamps. Large canvases hung on the walls which sometimes had windows cut into them, giving you different views of the gallery space.
I can see why my friend George raved about this exhibition. The design by India Mahdavi took it to the next level. The paintings were good, don't get me wrong but I don't think they were necessarily outstanding or ground breaking, although they may have been at the time they were made. However, the design of the exhibition with its bold colours, patterns, space and light made the exhibition as a whole created than the sum of it s parts. Design is usually a silent partner, not noticed until it goes wrong. In this exhibition, deign is the assertive big sister, saying 'Yes, I am here too!'
This painting of an almond tree was my favourite. It was also Bonnard's last completed painting. Of course this photo sones't do it justice. You'll have to check out the exhibition for yourself if you want to see it in its full glory.
I'll finish this post with a quote from Bonnard that is spot on for any artist or person wanting to learn and do.
'A painter should have two lives, one in which to learn, and one in which to practise his (sic) art.'