By 1912, Bonnard had begun to spend much of his time away from Paris, and in that year, he purchased a modest villa at Vernonnet, a picturesque hamlet in the Seine valley not far from Giverny. During the next four decades, the artist turned increasingly for his subject matter to the rooms in which he lived, first at Vernonnet and later at Le Cannet, evoking the rhythms of domestic intimacy through paintings of still-life and interior. The present picture is an absorbing example of the work from these years, its vivid palette, luminous texture, and compressed space lending the familiar still life motifs an air of unfamiliar enchantment.
The handling of space in Anémones is emotive and presciently abstract, the use of color richly orchestrated. Bonnard's diaries recount his efforts to master "this color which maddens you" but which ultimately forced him to be more accurate in his drawing. An accomplished colorist, his palette, earlier dominated by darker tones, now brightened. He flooded his canvases with an intense light, making works such as the present painting a triumph to the expressive power of color and the luminescence achieved from his study of the effects of sunlight. In Anémones the pictorial allusion to "sky" is but a brief horizon at the upper margin of the composition, and otherwise the background consists of pulsing, concentric intervals of light green and golden yellow, evoking a verdant warmth and almost suffocating visual splendor. The hot yellow tones press forward, along with the implausibly small yellow platform underneath the vase--apparently a pedestal--catapulting the bouquet upwards, producing a space which seems on the one hand sealed and intimate, on the other hand tense and throbbing. The picture is unified by the use of saturated color and active brushwork, rendering the final effect shimmering and mysterious. John Rewald wrote:
With the exception of Vuillard, no painter of his generation was to endow his technique with so much sensual delight, so much feeling for the undefinable texture of paint, so much vibration. The sensitivity which guided his brush he infused into every particle of paint placed on the canvas; there is almost never any dryness, any dullness in his execution. His paintings are not merely 'flat surfaces covered with colors arranged in a certain order' [as Maurice Denis described the work of the Nabis]; they are covered with colors applied with a delicate voluptuousness that confers to the pigment a life of its own and treats every single stroke like a clear note of a symphony. At the same time Bonnard's colors changed from opaque to transparent and brilliant, and his perceptiveness seemed to grow as his brush found ever more expert and more subtle means to capture the richness both of his imagination and of nature (in Pierre Bonnard, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948, p. 48).
Other critics have similarly stressed the seductive quality of Bonnard's art--produced, as here, by a skilled play with formal components:
Objects are broken up by light in patterns of color across the surface, and the dialogue between object and color, color and pattern, pattern and surface, surface and pictorial depth becomes part of the content of the painting...Paintings begun in the memory of a visual experience encapsulated in a drawing were transformed through color into a rich, immensely varied surface made up of a tapestry of brushstrokes, glazes, scumbles, impasto highlights and pentimenti. Objects were not so much painted as felt into shape within the surface over a long period. 'The principal subject,' Bonnard maintained, 'is the surface, which has its color, its laws over and above those of objects...It's not a matter of painting life,' Bonnard concluded, 'it's a matter of giving life to painting' (N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 171).