‘Let it be felt that the painter was there; consciously looking at the objects in their light already conceived from the beginning.’Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) Pierre Bonnard drew obsessively, on his daily walks in the country before breakfast, at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, loafing around the house and garden, in cafés, in the streets, out of windows, in harbours, on beaches, on boats, and in the bathroom. Bonnard’s wife Marthe was a difficult and neurotic woman who spent a disproportionate amount of her day in obsessive washing and bathing. Thanks to this quirk, Bonnard made many intimate figurative works. (See “Apologies“) Bonnard did not paint from direct observation. He said he felt ‘weak in front of nature. …The presence of the object, the motif, is very cramping for the painter at the moment of painting. The point of departure for a painting being an idea — if the object is there at the time of working, there is always a danger for the artist to allow himself to be too involved in the incidences of the direct view, and in so doing to lose the initial idea.’ Instead of painting from direct observation, he painted from his drawings, and his memory stored within them. Bonnard drew on terrible paper; cheap children’s sketch books, calendars, envelopes, anything. The drawings are usually made with a soft pencil and tend to be small – about five inches – so they fit easily into his pocket and attracted minimal attention while being made. George Besson tells us he ‘scrawled them with a burnt match, even a broken pen, but he had a predilection for an indescribably blunt pencil that was so short that a landscape or a nude seemed to spring from the ends of his three fingers compressed around an invisible point’. His need to quickly record on his scrap of paper everything that he would later need in the studio resulted in the creation of a visual language, an extraordinary variety of marks and rich decorative descriptions of pattern, form, and surface. Bonnard didn’t dictate or position his subjects. He preferred to go to the place where he liked to be, and draw what occurred in the moment. ‘You have to be patient’, he wrote, ‘know how to wait. The emotion will surge up in its own time.’ … ‘The work of art — a stop of time’, he wrote in a diary — a chance arrangement of things on the breakfast table, with a figure perhaps, or a landscape as he saw it in the light of an instant, and so they are usually painted from a single drawing, or from more than one made in quick succession on the same occasion. The Bowl of Milk (1919) Drawing many times throughout the day on informal scraps of paper, Bonnard could catch brief moments that other painters wouldn’t even have time to get started with, and then he could spend months or even years painting them later in the studio. It is difficult to tell from the drawings which would later be made into paintings, so it’s likely that he’d decide what to paint later, while looking through his prolific resource of sketches. Sources: The Painter’s Table and Sargy Mann …more of Bonnard’s drawings in the next post.