A Surprise At The Bonnard Exhibit

27 Mar

Thursday Dan Henry and I took Muni to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor to see the Bonnard Exhibit which opened in February and will remain on view through May 15. His was a name I vaguely remembered during college, since he died in 1947, but before this exhibit I never really connected with examples.

He possessed a beautiful capacity for color, most of it sunny, and his subject matter was fairly domestic, sensual and most of all quite intimate. But the canvases or whatever else he painted on never possessed the crisp edges on associates with painters, nor the dominance of themes so evident in the Impressionists.

I think I have a clue – his glasses. If my intuition is correct, he didn’t use his glasses when he painted and he may have been very short sighted. If so, his sense of line is just approximate and therefore lacking in the decisive edge.

This observationĀ  is written by someone who is a borderline literate when it comes to painting, so you can toss the opinion into the mental trashcan and I won’t be offended.

However, there was one small work dated from 1896 or so in the second gallery which caught my fancy. Near the right hand wall and almost a perfect square is a study of dancers at the Paris Opera. Perhaps a nod to Degas influence, but the ensemble comprises multiple members with the front right group of dancers on their knees, another ensemble moving on a diagonal and yet another moving behind them, all in faint pink with dabs of colorful reddish sashes. Where Degas captured lighting and closeness to the wings, Bonnard’s images seem bathed in bright stage light, perhaps the ensemble in a finale. It’s charming and it also says a lot about theatrical dance patterns fin de siecle Paris Opera.


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