New Show Features Paintings from His Mind's Eye
Listen to Susan Stamberg's report.
View a photo gallery about the exhibition.
Sept. 20, 2002 -- When Duncan Phillips first saw a Pierre Bonnard painting in 1925, the great art collector knew he had to have it. Phillips pleaded -- and persisted -- until it was his. "Woman with Dog" became the first of 17 Bonnard paintings to find a permanent home in The Phillips Collection.
Now, the Washington, D.C., modern-art museum is about to open Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, an exhibition of 130 works by the French painter. NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg recently got an early look at the exhibit and reports on it for Morning Edition.
"Woman with Dog," the painting Phillips fell in love with, is on the road in Houston, but there's another woman with dog in this Bonnard show. It's a 1910 painting called "The Red Checkered Tablecloth" or "The Dog's Lunch." In it, a woman is sitting at a table with a dog intently looking on.
"The dog is thrusting his muzzle at the woman -- you can almost see his nose quiver," Stamberg says in describing the scene.
Curator Beth Turner explains: "Every muscle in his body is inclined toward this woman, and why? What does she have that he's so interested in? Why it's this little piece of sugar."
The painting shows "an intimate moment caught in the rush of time," Stamberg says. And it's a good example of Bonnard's technique. He rarely sketched or painted from life. Rather than using posed models, "Bonnard worked from his mind's eye," Stamberg says.
Turner adds: "In fact, it was the remembered sensation that was of greatest significance to him, because it had to have made that connection between observation and emotion for it to be a subject for his work."
Duncan Phillips, who in 1930 gave Bonnard his very first one-man show in the United States, saw the artist as the great 20th century inventor of color -- the heir to Renoir.
As Stamberg puts it: "With his smudges, and scenes, and intimate domestic moments, Pierre Bonnard worked against the art of his day. Picasso was using geometry, cubes, Africa, neutral colors. Matisse was flattening color out, making it bold and primary. Bonnard was more interested not just in how we see color, but how we experience it -- how it makes us feel.
The Bonnard show runs from Sunday through Jan. 19, 2003, before moving on to the Denver Art Museum.
Search for more NPR stories on The Phillips Collection.
Visit The Phillips Collection site and learn more about the exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late.
Read a history of Duncan Phillips and The Phillips Collection.