Childhood & Early Life
Pierre Bonnard was born on October 3, 1867, in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine, France. His parents Élisabeth Mertzdorff and Eugène Bonnard were from Alsace and Dauphiné.
His father worked in the French Ministry of War as a senior executive. He also had two siblings, a brother Charles and a sister Andrée.
He was educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and Lycée Charlemagne in Vanves. From an early age, he took to drawing caricatures and had a knack for watercolors. He was often found doodling in the backyard of his parents' home in Grand-Lemps near the Cote Saint-André in the Dauphiné.
He was an intelligent student who showed interest in literature. He graduated in the classics but also earned a law degree as per his father's wishes. He began practicing law in 1888.
While he was still in school studying law, he enrolled in the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris. Here, he met his future friends and artists like Maurice Denis, Gabriel Ibels, Paul Sérusier, and Paul Ranson.
In 1888, Pierre Bonnard was accepted by the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, where he met artists like Edouard Vuillard and Ker Xavier Roussel.
His first commercial artwork was a poster design for France-Champagne, which helped convince his family that he wanted to make a career as an artist. He also set up his first studio on rue Lechapelais.
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Pierre Bonnard was not as good a lawyer as he was an artist. He failed to enter into the official registry of lawyers and thus turned to his lifelong passion.
He gathered his like-minded friends from Académie Julian and formed the 'Les Nabis,' an avant-garde group of artists who had common artistic goals but differed in styles and creative expression.
The group members considered their art sacred and approached it in various ways, but Bonnard was deemed to be cheerful with nonchalant gaiety.
In 1891, he was acquainted with Toulouse-Lautrec, and by December, his work was exhibited at the annual event of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. He also worked in association with the art magazine "La Revue Blanche." His work was also showcased at the Le Barc de Boutteville in March 1891.
Pierre Bonnard was greatly influenced by Japanese graphic art and Japanese artists like Utamaro and Hiroshige. He started incorporating ideas like multiple viewpoints and the use of bold colors and geometric patterns in his work. The Nabi members often called him “Le Nabi le trésjaponard” because of his Japanese inclinations.
He spent his time producing decorative art and fabrics, and designing furniture, fans and other objects. He continued designing posters for France-Champagne, which helped him gain popularity outside the art world.
In 1892, he became involved in lithography and painted two of his most significant works: the "Le Corsage a carreaux” and "La Partie de croquet." He also illustrated Claude Terrasse's music books.
By 1894, he had started painting urban scenes and life in and around Paris. He focused on painting buildings and animals with no visible faces.
Pierre Bonnard was also a member of the Art Nouveau movement and designed a stained glass window for Tiffany and called it “Maternity.” He painted a portrait of his partner and future wife, Marthe.
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In 1895, the Durand-Ruel Gallery displayed his first-ever individual collection of paintings, lithographs, and posters.
He also provided artwork for a novel called "Marie," written by Peter Nansen. He had several expositions with the Nabis at galleries like Amboise Vollard Gallery and Bernheim Jeaune.
The early 20th century saw various changes in Bonnard's artistic style. He began exploring new subjects and themes but still retained his distinct characteristics.
In 1900, while working in his studio at 65 rue de Douai in Paris, he showcased his work at the 'Salon des Independents.' He made 109 lithographs for a book of poems called the "Parallèment."
He ventured into painting nudes and portraits and painted a series by 1905.
In 1908, he was invited to stay in the home of painter Manguin, where he drew for a poetry book by Octave Mirbeau.
Bonnard was immersed in painting nudes and portraits during the time of the First World War. By 1916, he had produced extensive collections like "Méditterranée," "La Pastorale," "Paysage de Ville," and "La ParadisTerreste."
By this time, Pierre Bonnard had made a name for himself in the art community and was already well renowned in the French art circles. In 1918, he was also appointed as the honorary president of the Association of Young French Artists.
He produced several artworks for books by authors like Andre Gide and Claude Anet in the 1920s.
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In 1923, he exhibited at the Autumn Salon, and in 1924, the Galerie Druet honored him with a retrospective of his sixty-eight works. In 1925, he bought a home in Cannes.
Family & Personal Life
Pierre Bonnard lived with his long-time partner and later wife, Marthe de Méligny, from 1893 until her death in 1942. She was his subject in many of his paintings, including nude portraits.
He was romantically involved with two other women, Renée Monchaty and Lucienne Dupuy de Frenelle, in the years before his marriage. He also portrayed them in some of his paintings.
It has been claimed that Bonnard fathered Lucienne's second son, and Renée Monchaty killed herself soon after he married Marthe.
In 1938, the Art Institute of Chicago featured his and his friend Édouard Vuillard's works at an exhibition. In 1939, he moved to the south of France after the commencement of World War II and remained there until the war ended.
During the war, he was asked to paint a portrait of French collaborationist leader, Marechal Petain, which he refused. However, when he was commissioned to paint a picture of Saint Francis de Sales, he painted it with his friend Vuillard's face.
He completed his final painting, "The Almond Tree in Blossom," a week before he passed away.
He passed away on January 23, 1947, at the age of 79, in his cottage on La Route de Serra Capeou near Le Cannet, on the French Riviera.
In 1948, The Museum of Modern Art in New York City arranged for a retrospective of Bonnard's works, which was meant to be a celebration of his 80th birthday.