Lennart, in his 80's and now being adjudged partially blind [he can only see with peripheral vision] has a show up of recent work, a block or so from the Met. The show is made up of paintings of the figure and of still life. The largest painting by far is an Arcadian scene with two nudes in it. The famale nude is in the foreground and there is a male nude in the near distance. He has been painting quite large Arcadian paintings for many years. This one is of modest size, it is probably about 5 feet by 6 feet. It is a misty day. There is more mist between us and the male figure, but we can feel it flowing over all the forms. Despite his visual limitations, this painting feels like he truly was in Arcadia himself. It is a wonderful part of an artist's late work. Old art books used to be much involved in the artist's late style, as in Titian, for example. The looseness, and uninhibited assurance, which we see in Titian, in his paintings which free the passages from being subordinate to the forms which they describe are legendary. Well, with all his visual problems, I think Lennart has a great late style.
The show was not huge and the Met stays open until 8 on Saturday, so we went to see the Bonnard show. I went back and saw it again roday. The show concentrated on interiors, often with a figure or two in them. Nothing was painted befure the 1930s and the works continue into the 1940s close up to the year of his death at 80.
At a panel discussion about the last NY Bonnard show, held at the MOMA, Jack Flam said that he taught 20th century art without mentioning or showing Bonnard's work. At that panel he did opine that he would rethink his options. He has an essay in this catalog. Actually, there were 2 rooms in the last Bonnard show which showed the same kind and quality of work as that in this show. There was a room full of the bathtub paintings, and a series of interiors with a figure up close overlapping a figure in the distance. Bonnard traveled a different path from both Matisse and PIcasso. His late work corresponds to late work of Dufy and Braque. All three artists painted large interiors during the last years. All of them spend a long time on some of those paintings, many years on each by Dufy, and solid months for Braque.The work is not exactly like much of each artist's other work. They each set themselves very serious and difficult problems. The work, in each case is their best.
Bonnard was neither a fauve nor a cubist. As one of the Nabis [prophets in Hebrew] he was a symbolist, self directed at finding newly poetic subjects and in painting them to achieve further metaphoric expression in color, composition and paint handling. Although his color can be very bright and his composition very much getting into full space from a taut picture plane, his form solving is never the reason for the work. Everything he does is meant to enrich our associations with the subject of the painting. This subject is often an interior with a still life in it and a figure or two. There is no doctrinaire espousal of any compositional or coloristic program. These both change as they can increase the tropes we experience in the painting. Women are contrasted and compared with flowers. The flowers glow, and sometimed the women trump the flowers, doing more than glow. A figure in the foreground may have no large contrasts, and may remain invisible until we see a much more normatively contrasting small figure behind it in the middle distance. Then its rich associative nature becomes clear, if only temporarily as anothe element of surprise and feeling becomes unveiled. Their is multiple association between the forms, landscape, sitll life, figure, table covered with food, in which each element is compared with, or complements another. The associations differ radically from one painting to another. Even apparently similar paintings in subject matter and size eventually show us that the connecting consequences of his pictorial process is to show us radically contrasting development and forming.
In his early work, as seen in the show at the Met some years ago, of large scale early work by the Nabis, he is perhaps the member of the group who shows the least talent. He was no wunderkind. As the years went by his work became more and more wonderfuland the work of his last twenty years was probably his best work.
There was a small room filled with his studies for paintings. Many small scale with pencil only, and others with added color and paint. These are usually wonderful despite their dimunitive size. They are true working drawings. There is no attempt to knock us dead. It is work for his own edification. He gets it together and then he paints the hell out of it.
While he is no obvious virtuoso he does do something which neither of the two most famous of the school of Paris painters, Matisse and Picasso were involved with in their late work. Besides coming to terms with large spaces and forms expressing the subject and its relation to the canvas, quite radical picture plane oriented work, at times, he also means to have a way of reading the paintings in small takes. These are arrived at through the develpment of passages within the large forms which would otherwise verge on abstraction. These passages are exactly what Picasso despised. He thought of them as the second and third and so on guesses of an artist unwilling to come to terms with the one right color which should be in that form-and only that color. In fact, Bonnard purposefully worked out those passages to produce a work which could last longer for the viewer and attract him to the poetry contained in the work. These symbolist druthers seemed not merely bad but useless to Picasso.
Given the hard headed modernist spatial construction of so many of his later works, his later work can also be seen as work which comes historically after both Picasso and Matisse, and upholds the flag for slow painting, as a reconstructed space, unlike their work in that it is filled with passages of pictorial incident which add to and fulfill the composition.
I think that we will need to be revisiting some of the other members of his generation in their late work, such as those already mentioned, Dufy and Braque, at leastVuillard, late Soutine, and another, and comprehensive look at Derain. There were, of course other Fauves and Cubists whom we have not seen recently, like Leger and Gris.