most tentative beginning

very early stage bonnard's window

It begins — still very dependent upon Bonnard’s picture.  Recall I said that his version is the map I’m using.  It determines the territory, but as the picture progresses I will be planting more and more of my own images and ideas into this painting.  It measures 60 x 48 inches.  I am trying to keep it vague enough to accommodate whichever window treatment I finally choose.

The foreground cloth was going to be pale yellow-white until I found the green cloth with stripes.  The cloth’s beautiful color sold me on the idea that it should be included.  Bonnard’s cloth was pale white with blue stripes.  So the stripes have crossed over from his picture to mine.  But now my table will be mostly green.  Green in the window above and green on the table below.



photo of motif Bonnard ideaFrom my mediations today on Bonnard’s art, I had one of those moments when you bang into the obvious.  “Pierre Bonnard’s art is indistinct.”  The thought floated into view in my brain like a boat that you see as it silently sails down the river.  Why should I feel some need to plan everything when his own starts (some of those exist) demonstrate how furtively he sometimes snuck up on his motifs?  And writing about the big painting conjured in me a great desire to begin, so I’ve begun.

I’ve started with his sketch, which I’ve decided to use like a map.  Certain key locations of the canvas I plot using this map.  I have things that I’ll be adding — most keenly the vase of flowers — that are absent from his motif.  The part of his canvas where my flowers will go is empty wall so clearly that changes everything.  But I sort of copy the general plot of his design.  My format is wider, too.  He has things in his picture that will not appear in mine — like ghostly Marthe on the left margin of his scene!  All these differences and the many that will follow will make the two images very different from each other. Yet I learn things about Bonnard’s painting already in even these most  cursory gestures.

I feel like Diebenkorn looks over my shoulder.  He studied Bonnard too.  And because I must change things from the outset, I become aware of all the changes that Diebenkorn introduced into his most Bonnard-like images.

And, oh! the things you notice.  Bonnard’s vertical lines are not plumb!  Not at all.  The frame of the window just veers off in wild fashion.  The painting entire holds together like an iron grill or like diamond thread — both delicate and adamant.  What gravity binds his image together … who can say?

Already the delight begins …. my delight … as I begin painting.

flights of fancy


Just now I found this whimsical drawing that I made, goodness knows when.  It’s a quick and spare copy of Bonnard’s huge and famous L’atelier au mimosa.  I saw the actual painting in the Phillips Collection exhibit on Bonnard in 2002 though I made this drawing from a book.

Bonnard’s painting is 50 x 50 inches square.  Seeing this little sketch I think about large spans of very bright — dizzyingly bright — color!  In truth all of reality is an amazing field of light that we see with our eyes each day.




Some artists are very particular about ellipses, getting them right.  Monsieur Bonnard on the contrary used distortion a lot in his art, as did others of his contemporaries, like Vuillard, Matisse, Braque, many others.  While there’s nothing wrong with getting your ellipses right, getting them “wrong” poses a different sort of conundrum.  What kind of distortion gets the proper meaning?  Something about that creamer above, its overly wide rim, its weirdly strong echoing shadow appeals to me.  I like the crudity of this little painting that I made a long, long time ago.

I am wondering if I can properly manage a similar kind of sharp elbowed kind of drawing-in-the-painting now … and can I do so on a large scale?  Can I do that in the forth-coming big still life?

I wasn’t trying to distort the creamer when I painted this, and I had an actual motif that I was looking at.  I won’t be looking at the motif when I paint the big painting, and can one respond in that angled way to an image that floats in your brain?  An image that is really large in scale?

I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.  Writing about these things makes me eager to paint them.



bonnard gouache drawing for painting
Pierre Bonnard — sketch for La Salle à manger sur le jardin


I’ve been thinking ahead to the large still life that I plan to be painting soon.  This is the canvas that was going to be a large horizontal koi painting until I realized I just didn’t want to do that motif right now.  The canvas has since been up-ended vertically and the first early bits of paint mostly covered over with a pale blue (just because that’s the color that was already there).  I had decided to do “my version” of Bonnard’s La Salle à manger sur le jardin (regular readers may recall that I am in Monsieur Bonnard’s “classe” now — the one he teaches in the museums and in books from his perch in Heaven).

So I am asking myself exactly what it means to paint a version.  Do I use parallel color?  If so, as you can see from his sketch above, that means white table cloth, golden-ish room framing greens from the window above.  Am I using only his compositional idea?  Am I using a window something like the one he peered through in the lovely Villa Castellamare at Arcachon in 1930 (in earlier posts I went “window shopping”) or am I going to use my own humble window that looks out north on the yard, or perhaps the one that faces east and frames the holly tree?

Well, happily I don’t have to decide today.  I still have the “intermediate” picture to complete:  the tall bright vase of flowers on the green cloth with the blue background.  But it’s time to start thinking ahead….