École de Bonnard

owl flowers dec 2017 (2)

All the artists I’ve wanted to study from are — to put it crudely — dead guys. When I was a youth I studied with Degas (though I never met the man).  Later on I studied rather extensively with Van Gogh.  I did study with Diebenkorn too, who was an artist of my time (he was born the same year as my mother) but by the time I began studying with him, he was gone as well.

Now I attend Bonnard’s classes.  I meet him via books mostly, sometimes in a painting hanging at the National Gallery of Art or the Phillips Collection.  He didn’t ever want to be a teacher (so far as I know) but he has consented to let me become his student anyway.  (Like what is he going to do to stop me?)

I was teaching some myself a while back.  But now I’m a student again.  I think the student role suits me better.  I don’t say I’m a good student because I do whatever I please.  But Monsieur Bonnard doesn’t seem to mind.

Anyway all the posts for a while are diaries of my schooling.  I have a project.  Step by step I search after the answers to the pictorial problems that arise.  I love it.  And this blog helps me stay on track. If you want to study in the École de Bonnard, too, do join me.  The more the merrier.

The acrylic painting above is one of the versions of the motif I’m currently working on under Bonnard’s pleasantly permissive, ethereal, heavenly supervision.

(Oh, but note, I stole the figs from Frans Snyders.)  Steal figs here:



Meanwhile, the student’s path toward learning is not always easy or straight.

A blogger pal Dr Andrea Dinardo of the University of Windsor has an inspiring TED talk on the topic of resilience.  You can find it here:

Free yourself.


the motif chronicles

bouquet with owl etc version

I started the idea of the flowers against the window about two years ago.  I recall at the time that I linked several posts to each other hoping to retrieve and to remember where all the related materials were.  But right now I cannot find any of the linked posts.

I’m giving myself a few links to related posts now, things I found via an image search.  I’ll post those below.  Maybe I’ll find some of the others eventually.  In any case, I track my progress on the painting and record thoughts and problems in the blog as a helpful diary so that I can consult my own earlier opinions whenever I get stumped.  In the previous post I remarked on the consistency of light as a potential problem, now I’m wondering about the angle of vision.  Since there’s no actual still life, I have to figure out where I am imaginatively standing inside the imaginary room — which I suppose, if I must pin it down, is the Villa Castellamare that Bonnard rented where he painted his scene, the one that I love so much.

I’m trying to live there “rent free” as the saying goes ….


I don’t expect anybody to follow the links.  I put them here as part of my own filing, but if curiosity strikes … well, whatever.  Here are links.







I’ve decided to add the frog teapot to the picture, a previous drawing of it is here:


Here’s one of Bonnard’s drawings for his painting



Unrelated, but this landscape drawing indicates how a plane can lie flat and stretch out.  The table in the picture needs to recede flatly in this manner and reminds one of the links between landscape and still life.



second large bouquet

second large bouquet no 2

I paint the flowers as though photography doesn’t exist.  And there’s no deliberate plan, I don’t have a strategy for singling out some of the flowers and subordinating others.  It does tend to work out that way at first, but the plan — if there is one — is subliminal.  I use the bee plan: I flit from flower to flower.

I just pick a starting point and begin describing locations and shapes.  Afterwards my attention goes willy nilly where it will.

I’ve taken lots of photographs — and may take even more since the photographs are like free flowers (and you never know when you’ll need some flowers).  But this direct, unscripted connection to the flowers painted from life is wonderful.  From the various studies, I’ll later choose whatever seems best, and those arrangements will become the bouquet that goes into the big painting.  I keep painting until the flowers wilt (or I do).

I’ve never done a painting in quite this way before so it’s intriguing.  It’s also emotionally satisfying.  I contemplate all the objects separately, getting to know them, before combining them into the big scene.

So there’s a question of light — what will be the lighting of the final picture?  Will it be specific and generalized, both at once?  I’ve been puzzling over the topic a bit.  I would offer that approach as characteristic of how my big hero Pierre Bonnard worked.  He made a compositional study of his painting motif, one where the objects are lit from behind by the window.  That’s the specific part.  But afterwards he painted it from imagination and memory, perhaps also by reference to a few drawings (not many, not nearly so many as I make).  And he got a consistent seeming image without obsession over whether the particular features were actually like the thing he had observed.  And indeed his paintings create a realm of brilliant, dreamlike pseudo-reality.

Here’s one of his studies for the painting that I’m emulating:

bonnard gouache drawing for painting

Bonnard’s gouache drawing measures a precious 6 x 4 inches (it’s reproduced on page 138 of the Met’s “Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still lifes and Interiors”).

And my oil study in-the-works above measures 24 x 18 inches.

I worked on the study during the day and at night.  I noticed only a few really significant differences in lighting (places where shadows fell in one instance and not in the other).  Since I can work on the painting effectively enough no matter the light, I am guessing that I don’t need to be especially scrupulous about lighting in the painting itself.

The blue at the top doesn’t relate to the large painting I have planned because actually there’s a second, smaller intermediate painting for which I plan to use the bouquet. That picture has a blue background so I’ve used blue here.  But my large, Bonnard inspired painting  will have a window behind the flowers thus a surrounding of mostly greens — from the window I found with a view of trees that I found, that I will have found when my “window shopping” is completed.