I wrote some of this in answer to a letter and left it there, but I think I want it to be here, too, because its says something about Bonnard which I had not said earlier.
There is much more to Bonnard's late style and all the rest. Bonnard never left symbolism behind him. As a Nabis he was pledged not to use known symbols including known subjects like a madonna and child. He was also pledged to try to find new sources of poetry in painting.His color is not meant only to report on what some things looked like on a particular day or even a selection from what something looke like, once. It was more important to deal within the sensations and feeling he got from those things, fruit, flowers, landscape, interiror in conjunction, often with a figure. The beginnings of one symbolist composition is the comparison between a woman and a bunch of flowers. That comparison was begun by Courbet where it usually turns up in small or middle sized paintings. Several of the wonders of this Bonnard show include women, flowers, and sometimes women with landscape, or all three. In one painting her reflection can be seen in the mirror behind her, where Bonnard's head may also be seen. The reflected figures, far away, do not have the light and color of the one in the foreground, which may almost be seen through and might be a wanderer arrived from faery. Now, don't get the idea that I have gone sentimental like a bowl of slush. We need some extraordinarily sharp metaphor to make sure that we see the strangenesses in his paintings. There is no such thing as a normative figure in any other painting-think of the one where there is a crouching female figure in the darks between two table tops, which fits completely into the space between and in tone almost disappears in the darks. Can we believe that was an accident? I don't. He is a child of both Gauguin and Redon, always at their best in poetry and construction. There is nothing like a pictorial method in his color, he adds and subtracts for specifically poetic reasons in that motif. And we have to learn to read and almost translate his poetry to know what he is doing and what he could mean to us. [I had a typing error and said -use-but that too is true].
It is also important to remember that he was the one major direct influence on Balthus, whom we all read both formally and in terms of the added meanings in his subjects, Symbolic ones [from a symbolist viewpoint.We need tofollow how it affects his painting practice, as in the several pictures which carry the meaning of the Dream-not the painting with the nude and the dwarf-but the one with the sleeping girl and another wafting by and the meaning of the detailed surrounding patterns and of the rose she is carrying to the sleeper-dreamer. That line of symbolism is not foreign to exactly one of the major artist of the school of Paris-Bonnard.
You know, it took me twenty or thirty years to look seriously at Redon as a model. But he and Gauguin and Seurat and Vuillard are better models for our futures than Matisse or Picasso. most especially not Matisse after 1930 and Picasso after Guernica. That is because his aim in painting was not to simplify and intensify as in Matisse or, at that point in his life, to use his life's discoveries in paintings to show new mastery, rather than new poetry, as in Picasso. Bonnard continues to look for new poetic statements. In his work, even radical reduction of diagonals to parallel vertical lines ends up being part of a poetic whole. There is no coloristic logic in relation to nature. Istead there is the many possible tropes which can be found in nature through intense observation rather than a few simple potentially caricatural color choices. Picasso was 100% wrong when he complained about Bonnard's many small color changes. They were part of the strength of his late work. His strining toward those nuances which enhance and can totally transform our experience. It is a great shame that Matisse decided to do with out them after 1930, and they never were a part of Picasso's attention. The greatness of Picasso's inventions were not available to others of his and the next generation, except as part of Picasso's well known bag of tricks.
What Bonnard did is a pictorial mnethod available to others which should in the hands of others, with different pictorial and life experiences, have different outcomes.