BONNARD at the Met

Pierre Bonnard, The Breakfast Table, 1936, oil on canvas

The Bonnard show at the Metropolitan is almost over (through April 19), and I've just found time for a quick post. Like the Morandi show before it, the Bonnard exhibition is presented in the Lehman Wing -- a glorious skylit central atrium surrounded in stark contrast by a dark cramped circular corridor where sadly the paintings are shown. The gallery light is so dim that it takes half an hour of blinking just to adjust your eyes to see the work. The impression is that the show has been relegated to a dismal corner of the basement as an afterthought. These conditions notwithstanding, the show presents a wonderful selection of paintings from the last ten years of the artist's life, as well as a group of drawings, watercolors and notebooks. I've always regarded Bonnard as a colorist of hallucinatory intensity, who was able to convey a simultaneous heightened presence and etherial dissolution. Seeing a large group of these late works, done in a period of high anxiety, war and the deteriorating health of his wife, there is also a strong sense of desperate claustrophobia which permeates the paintings. It is this dark psychological edge in Bonnard's work, barely perceptible, that animates his complex fractured space -- a shaky intensity that turns in on itself, and is ultimately mediated through transformative color. It is the shimmering tensions between his claustrophobia and his chromatic brilliance, between the dryness of his scumbled surfaces and the fluidity and glow of his spacial undulations, that removes Bonnard from the realm of Post-Impressionist academicism, and confirms him as a singular voice and a triumphant painter.