Paris art, Pierre Bonnard and the Nabis

With the benefit of hindsight and museum curators, it’s easy to know what is “great art” and what constitutes a “school of art.” But in real time, artists have to believe in themselves, often without recognition. There is usually not an expert who comes along with a magic wand and deems:  “Thou art an Artist.” An artist must believe in her or himself. And if they can team up with other artists to create a “school,” this again happens only because they decide this and make it so. Artists are brave souls who enrich our lives in ways that sometimes last for centuries.

I first was introduced to the work of Pierre Bonnard by a painting teacher at a little adult education class I took in Palo Alto. I was fascinated by how he painted walls, with so many colors. To see one of his paintings with the multi-colored walls, see this blog post about New York and art. On that day, I was  thrilled to come upon one of his paintings in the Monet gallery. The Bonnard was there only because the Monet usually occupying that space was “away on tour.” At the D’Orsay Museum in Paris,

Outside the D'Orsay Museum
Outside the D’Orsay Museum
Inside the D'Orsay Museum, a converted train station.
Inside the D’Orsay Museum, a converted train station.
The clock inside the D'Orsay Museum, preserved from its days as a train station.
The clock inside the D’Orsay Museum, preserved from its days as a train station.

I found more Bonnard and learned more about his artistic context.

With the Nabis, artists of like mind pronounced themselves a school of artists, creating beautiful works of art and advancing the art of painting.

The following description is on the wall at the gallery entry, next to The Downpour.

The Nabis

The term “Nabi” first appeared in a letter by Paul Sérusier. Derived from the Hebrew word “navi,” meaning “prophet,” it refers to a group of artists who regarded themselves as the messengers of a new art form based on an interpretation of Gauguin’s ideas.

The movement evolved over a period of some twelve years, from 1888, with Sérusier’s Talisman, to 1900, the date of the group’s final exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. It brought together artists as diverse as Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Henre-Gabriel Ibels, Georges Lacombe, Aristide Maillol, Paul Ranson, Jozsef Rippl-Ronai, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Paul Sérusier, Félix Vallotton and Édouard Vuillard.

There were two distinct trends within the group: artists attracted by esoteric and religious subjects, and others who subscribed to an intimate style portraying family life and domestic interiors.

Paul Serusier, The Downpour
Paul Serusier, The Downpour

The Nabis freed themselves from the straitjacket of faithful representation in favor of subjectivity, symbols and dreams. Influenced by Japanese prints, they adopted a synthetic stylization characterized by planes of pure color, splashes of color and sinuous lines. They worked in a number of different formats, from small pictures to large scale decorations.