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Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
PROPERTY FROM THE JOHN C. WHITEHEAD COLLECTION
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

Paysage stylisé (Le Grand-Lemps)

Details
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Paysage stylisé (Le Grand-Lemps)
signed with monogram (lower left)
oil, charcoal and pen and black ink on canvas
13 ¾ x 9 ½ in. (35 x 24 cm.)
Executed circa 1890
Provenance
Estate of the artist.
Bonnard-Terrasse collection (by descent from the above).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (by 1974).
Mrs. Edward G. Robinson, Beverly Hills; sale, Christie’s, New York, 17 May 1983, lot 34.
Acquired at the above sale by Achim Moeller Fine Art on behalf of John C. Whitehead.
Literature
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1974, vol. IV, p. 121, no. 01708 (illustrated).
M. Wykes-Joyce, “On View, Notable Exhibitions in London,” The Antique Dealer & Collectors Guide, 1 March 1977, p. 57 (illustrated).
Achim Moeller Fine Art, ed., Late XIX and Early XX Century French Masters, The John C. Whitehead Collection, A Collection in Progress, New York, 1987, p. 14 (illustrated in color, p. 15).
Achim Moeller Fine Art, ed., From Daumier to Matisse, Selections from the John C. Whitehead Collection, exh. cat., Achim Moeller Fine Art, New York, 2002, p. 20 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Tokyo, Wildenstein & Co., Bonnard/Vuillard/K.X. Roussel, May-June 1974, no. 2 (illustrated in color; titled Coucher de Soleil-Dauphiné; dated 1892).
The Montclair Art Museum, Late XIX and Early XX Century French Masters, The John C. Whitehead Collection, April-June 1989, p. 30, no. 1.
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, The Whitehead Collection, Late 19th and 20th Century French Masters, A Collection in Progress, April-May 1997, p. 109, no. 67 (illustrated in color).

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Morgan Schoonhoven
Morgan Schoonhoven

Lot Essay

Like many of the young artists who were affiliated with the modernist avant-garde on the cusp of the 20th century, Bonnard was a quick and early starter, and he made some remarkable pictures before he was only twenty-five. Executed circa 1890, Paysage stylisé (Le Grand-Lemps) represents the cutting-edge style of a new anti-naturalist tendency in the arts, derived from the Symbolist movement in literature led by the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, whose creed was "to paint, not the thing itself, but the effect it produces" (quoted in H. Weinfield, trans., Stéphane Mallarme, Collected Poems, Berkeley, 1994, p. 169).
In 1887 he took classes at the Académie Julian, were he met Paul Sérusier, Henri-Gabriel Ibels, Paul Ranson and Maurice Denis. Bonnard soon left behind–or "tried to unlearn," as he put it–the lessons and practices of an academic studio education, a process abetted by two significant events that initiated him into the new art of his day. The first occurred in October 1888. Bonnard was present when Sérusier returned from a stay in Pont-Aven and showed his friends at the Académie Julian a small landscape he had painted on the lid of a cigar box under the guidance of Paul Gauguin. This picture was like no other they had ever seen; the woodland and pond-side scene had been composed with pure, brilliant colors applied in a patch-like arrangement on the little panel. It was an epiphany–they immediately recognized that this was the art of the future, and they called this magical painting Le Talisman (Guicheteau, no. 2; fig. 1). They formed their own society of the initiated, and called themselves "Nabis," from the Hebrew word for prophet. In 1890, Denis published his celebrated dictum that "a picture–before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote–is essentially a plane surface covered with colors in a certain order" (quoted in G. Groom, Beyond the Easel, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 17).
The example of Gauguin remained important to Bonnard throughout his career, and near the end of his life he kept a postcard reproduction of Gauguin's La vision après le sermon (Wildenstein, no. 245/308) on his studio wall, as seen in a photograph taken by Cartier-Bresson in 1944. Bonnard applied the flat, outlined forms of Gauguin's synthétiste style to a poster design he made in competition for the France-Champagne company in 1889, which won him the first prize of a hundred francs. It was eagerly sought after when it was printed and distributed in 1891. With the first earnings from his art, he decided to commit himself to painting, and met two other young artists who would become his closest friends, Edouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel. They shared an interest in Japanese prints, and indeed, the second major event in Bonnard's studies occurred in May 1890, when he viewed the most extensive survey seen to date in Paris of ukiyo-e woodcuts and illustrated books, organized by Siegfried Bing, the pioneering importer and dealer of japonaiserie, at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. Bonnard began to collect inexpensive Japanese popular prints known as crépons, which sold for pennies in department stores. He later recalled, "I covered the walls of my room with this naïve and gaudy art. Gauguin and Sérusier alluded to the past. But what I had in front of me was something tremendously alive and extremely clever I realized after contact with these rough common images that color could express everything with no relief or texture. I understood that it was possible to translate light, shapes and characters alone, without the need for values" (quoted in Pierre Bonnard, Early and Late, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., pp. 28-29).
In the present work, Bonnard has reduced all the forms into flat color shapes, in the Japanese manner. He wanted, as he said, "to see form simply as a flat silhouette" (quoted in T. Hyman, Bonnard, London, 1998, p. 21). Bonnard has reveled in teasing the eye, forcing the viewer to take the time to unravel the forms in order to read the content of his picture. Indeed, the viewer's eye reads various shapes first as color forms, before it becomes apparent precisely what they represent.
This manner of painting is purely synthetic and decorative, and therein lays the artist's ongoing debt to Gauguin. This approach completely abjures the traditional naturalism and illusionism of Western painting, and is non-Impressionist as well. It was controversial, and the elderly Impressionists disliked the Nabis' paintings. Some critics, however, were more sympathetic and forward-looking. Claude Roger-Marx, reviewing Bonnard's paintings in the 1893 Salon des Indépendants, wrote that the artist ''is one of the most spontaneous, most strikingly original temperaments...M. Bonnard catches instantaneous poses, he pounces upon unconscious gestures, he captures most fleeting expressions; he is gifted with the ability to select and quickly absorb the pictorial elements in any scene, and in support of this gift he is able to draw upon a delicate sense of humor, sometimes ironic, always very French" (quoted in J. Rewald, Pierre Bonnard, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948, p. 24).

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