Painted in 1927, Vue du Cannet is a monumental landscape showing the panoramic view from the Villa Rose, Pierre Bonnard's house in the South of France, which he had nicknamed Le Bosquet and which would become his main residence for the rest of his life. One of the largest pictures that Bonnard painted during his life, stretching almost eight feet by eight feet, Vue du Cannet is filled with a wealth of colour and detail, creating a landscape that is large enough and intricate enough for the viewer to become completely immersed in the shimmering gold of the leaves that dominates its centre.
Bonnard enjoyed working on a large scale, as is evident in some of the celebrated pictures he created both at Le Cannet and in La Roulotte, his home in the Seine valley at Vernonnet, for instance Le jardin sauvage of 1918, now in the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, and La terrasse de Vernon of circa 1928, now in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf. There was doubtless some element of his Nabi attitudes towards decoration and the possibility of its endemic position in the home that informed the vast landscapes of Vernonnet and Le Cannet. At the same time, perhaps there was a seigniorial element to his renderings of the vast panorama of the views stretching out from his domain into the distance. This may be even more the case in Vue du Cannet, as it was painted only a year after Bonnard had purchased Le Bosquet, partly in order to safeguard the health of his wife, Marthe, who needed good air and warmth.
This tallied well with his own needs as an artist, and resulted in a range of luminous landscapes in which he appears to have enjoyed the sensuality of the countryside and the sensuality of his own palette, of the act of painting, alike. In Vue du Cannet, this luminosity is centred on the golden-yellow at the centre of the canvas, which is interspersed with an accumulation of tumbling red roofs, recalling the Gardanne paintings of Cézanne and showing Bonnard's sensitivity to the depiction of mass and three-dimensional form. This was of great concern to him, as he was aware that his love of colour provided a potential minefield if he did not balance it with the overall composition of the painting. Without Cézanne, and without a successful composition, his pictures would become just surfaces of colour. In Vue du Cannet, the brightness of the yellow and the reds at the centre of the canvas is emphasised by the darkness of the foliage that acts almost as a frame-within-a-frame, the contrast heightening the striking visual effect of this colourism. 'Represent nature when it is beautiful,' Bonnard once wrote in a note to himself. 'Everything has its moment of beauty. Beauty is the satisfaction of sight. Sight is satisfied by simplicity and order. Simplicity and order are produced by the legible division of surfaces, the groupings of sympathetic colours...' (P. Bonnard, quoted in N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 189). It is the legibility that was key, and that is so clearly evident in the landscape of Vue du Cannet as it stretches into the hazy distance.
'It's not a matter of painting life,' Bonnard stated. 'It's a matter of giving life to paintings' (P. Bonnard, quoted in N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 171). While this is certainly true of Vue du Cannet, it is nonetheless intriguing to note the degree to which Bonnard has revealed, albeit from the distance of the seclusion of Le Bosquet and his tranquil domestic life with Marthe, a clear fascination for the goings-on of the town itself. Writing about Bonnard's landscapes, the art historian Jean Clair has pointed out that, 'There is hardly any Bonnard landscape as deserted as it first seems, only showing itself to be inhabited after a lengthy look. A landscape existed for him, not in itself, but in the function of a human presence, no matter where he might tuck it in' (J. Clair, quoted in S.M. Newman (ed.), Bonnard: The Late Paintings, exh.cat., New York, 1984, p. 172). In Vue du Cannet, this is evident in the tiny figures who are seen, on closer inspection, to be milling around the archway at the nearest extremity of Le Cannet. This adds a tiny sense of the hustle and bustle of life in the South of France, as well as creating a kaleidoscopic interplay of colours within the canvas, giving it a sense of life and of jollity.