Monsieur Bonnard’s thoughts on color

bonnard mimosas

Il s’agit de noter aussitôt que possible ce qui vous a frappé. Si l’on a dans la suite une simple couleur comme point de départ, on compose toute une peinture autour. La couleur a une logique aussi exacte que celle de la forme. Il ne faut pas lâcher, avant d’avoir réussi à rendre l’impression première.

It’s important to notice as soon as possible whatever shakes you up.  If one takes a single color as a point of departure, you can compose an entire painting around it.  Color has a logic that is as exact as the logic of form.  You must not let go until you have succeeded in rendering the first impression.

So that’s what we learned in Monsieur Bonnard’s class today.  And I have to compose my whole painting around even one color perhaps — one amazing color that has shaken me to my foundations.



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….