26 September 2010

The Dogs Of Pierre Bonnard

"...Proust might not have had
a pet, no self-respecting animal would have let him linger that
long with a madeleine half-eaten  in his fingers." - from Compendium Dachsundium by Matthea Harvey, Everyman's Library, 2003.

Lovable and slightly disreputable, even when domesticated, the Nabi dogs of Pierre Bonnard are irresistible scene stealers.
 Bonnard himself did not have an “irresistible passion for painting”, according to his friend Annette Vaillant, but  after failing to pass his civil service examination and his failure to win the Prix de Rome, his  success with his poster for France-Champagne in 1891 was especially sweet.   And influential - it inspired Toulouuse-Lautrec to give the popular new medium a go. 

Whether pampered pets of the bourgeoisie or scraggly privateers, dogs in Bonnard's work are equally personable.  If these pictures were plays, the dogs would get the best lines.  In Bonnard's affectionate depiction of his sister Andree and her adored dog Ravageau, Andree and Ravageau form a tightly knit group between themselves.  We see Andree again in The Game Of Croquet, dog at her side, part of a tableau where the composer Claude Terrasse is upstaged by the happy pair. The pattern of the leaves looks like paper cut-outs; the flatttened colors and diffuse perspectives are evidence of  the artist's interest in ukiyo-e prints.
On the streets of Paris in the late 19th century fully a quarter of working people labored at the endless making and maintaining of clothing.  In The Little Laundress (1895) the girl carrying a heavy load of clean laundry and the spotted dog are fellows.  Interestingly, a preliminary sketch placed a trio of people standing on the sidewalk, but their removal serves to suggest a correspondence between the two characters.  Painted during the same year Place Clichy could be the little laundress's employer taking her dogs for a walk.  Something about her extravagantly ruffled collar connects this woman and these capering dogs.
Although carefully plotted, Bonnard's street scenes are casual affairs, anecdotes of urban life, ofetn likened to the prints of Ando Hiroshige for the way his characters are flattened on the surface of the picture.  Sometimes the dogs are mere silhouettes but, even so, they exude a liveliness that suggests Bonnard was as captivated by them as we are.
1. The Women And The Dog, 1891, Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
2. The Game Of Croquet - or -Crepuscule, 1892, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
3. Andree and Ravageau, c. 1891, Galerie Vollard, Paris.
4. Woman With Dog, 1897, Courthauld Institute, London.
5. The Little Laundress, 1895, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris.
6. Street Scene, Place Clichy, 1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
7. Two Dogs On A Deserted Street, 1894, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
7. Street Corner, from the series Quelques aspects de la vie de Paris, 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.