Pierre Bonnard, a French painter, printmaker and founding member of Les Nabis, was born on October 3 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine. Bonnard was the son of a prominent official of the French Ministry of War. Bonnard studied law, graduating and practicing as a barrister briefly. However, he had also attended art classes, and soon decided to become an artist.
Pierre Bonnard worked at the Ecole de Beaux Arts and at the Academie Julian in 1888, where he met Edouard Viullard and Maurice Denis. He began to exhibit in 1891, and in 1896 held his first one-man show. Bonnard and his friends, Roussel and Vallotton, were known as the Nabis (Hebrew for Prophets). During the 1890s and 1900s, Bonnard’s work had affinities with Art Nouveau, with its linear rhythms and decorative qualities.
In 1893, Pierre Bonnard met Marthe de Melingy, whose real name was Marie Mousin. She became Bonnard’s wife and model for the next 40 years. She was painted with great sensuousness in her bath, in her bedroom and in their bed in what critics have called some of the greatest nude paintings of the century.
From 1910, Bonnard developed an enthusiasm for the landscape of the Mediterranean and southern France. In 1915, he became dissatisfied with his work and gave stricter attention to formal qualities. His later paintings showed structural strength. Pierre Bonnard is known for his intense use of color and his often complex compositions. He did not paint from life, but rather drew his subject, sometimes photographing it. He then painted the canvas from his notes.
In 1938, his work was exhibited along with Vuillard’s at the Art Institute of Chicago. He finished his last painting, The Almond Tree in Flower, a week before his death on January 23, 1947. In 1948, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City organized a posthumous retrospective of Pierre Bonnard’s work. In 1998, two major exhibitions of the artist’s work took place at the Tate Gallery in London, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.