23 Jan - 6 May 2019
If you’re looking for some respite from the January blues, Tate Modern’s new Bonnard exhibition – the first of this size to be held in London for 20 years – is the perfect tonic. His colour-filled visions of the French countryside, intimate interior scenes and still-lifes radiate a sense of stillness, calm and warmth that is nothing short of blissful during these cold, dark winter months. Languorous, sun-drenched lunches, a view of a flower-filled garden, and my favourite, the artist’s studio looking out onto a mimosa tree set ablaze with its bright yellow blooms – these are the scenes that transport you to Bonnard’s hazy world of golden light and quiet contentment.
Each painting is a feast for the eye; many of the compositions like tapestries of colour and pattern that threaten almost to dissolve into abstraction in front of your eyes. Fleeting moments and distant memories are transformed into timeless visions. This exhibition is best seen with time on your hands. Bonnard rewards you when you go slow, gradually losing yourself to the symphonic mirage of colour that fills the Tate’s galleries.
Bonnard is a hard artist to place. Never belonging to a specific movement, he is often-overlooked in surveys of Modernism, thought of, as Picasso so scathingly put it, as ‘the end of an old idea’. Spanning four decades, the exhibition, we are told, aims to rethink him as more than simply a ‘painter of happiness’, obsessed with colour and light, but as someone who was aware of the world around him, in particular the First and Second World Wars, both of which he lived through.
And indeed, there is a deeper level to many of Bonnard’s pictures, a melancholy or a strangeness that lies behind their glowing colours, making his work all the more innovative, and interesting. Open doors, stolen glances, his beloved wife Marthe bathing, her goddess-like appearance belying the constant illnesses that plagued her – these are the motifs that pack Bonnard’s work with a greater punch. Paeans to the power and poignancy of memory, his paintings, when really looked at, are in fact brimming with human emotion. There are definitely highs and lows in this show, but when Bonnard’s good, he’s magic.
Review for A Little Bird by Honor Hardwick. For more amazing art shows to look forward to in 2019 click here.