Wednesday, March 16, 2011

After Bonnard

In February I had a great day out visiting lots of exhibitions plus the preview of the Impressionist Sale at Christies on 9-10th February 2011.

At Christies I had the opportunity to see an amazing amount of art by leading artists including a very fine painting by Pierre Bonnard (1867 - 1947).

Postcard from my Walk - now resides with Liz Steel in Sydney Australia!

I decided to see if there was a ban on sketching in Christies so sat down, got my sketchbook out, started to sketch - and waited to be told "You can't do that here!" 

However nobody did.

So it appears as if, although this might be unusual, it is something you can do.  However do bear in mind that I was working with dry media.  I doubt if they would be quite so kind if I'd been working with paint or anything messy!

I chose to sketch a painting by Bonnard which I was very drawn to.  Which ever way I walked round I kept coming back to it to take another look.  Maybe not surprising given that I love colour and painters who are known to be strong colourists.  However I do find it fascinating that I'm beginning to understand where I want to go as an artist through the art I'm drawn to.  Increasingly the artists I'm interested in are those who work in layers and play with optics and pattern.

I didn't have very much time and I only had my small pack of pencils with me so was a bit stuck for some colours, saturation and the contrast.

Sketch of Bonnard's Terrasse à Vernon - at Christies on 8th February 2011
pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in Folio Moleskine Sketchbook

However I had a good stare at it, did learn a lot about how Bonnard composed paintings and applied paint - and decided to have another go at sketching it again when I got home

However this is when my dodgy foot went into total revolt and said it had had quite enough of walking, did not want to do any more and now needed a four week rest or else it would generate excruciating pain and/or require crutches!

So my Postcard from my Walk for February was metaphorical rather than literal as I reworked my sketch onto mountboard so I could send it as a postcard to Liz Steel in Australia!  It had however come about after a lot of walking!

I used my sketch in Christies but also used this reference from the Christies website to reference what I needed to do to reproduce it.  As I suspected I'd got the dimensions completely wrong and my sketch was longer and thinner than the painting.  I also knew I had a lot more work to do to get the saturated colours going so that it pointed up the contrast and design more and felt like a hot sunny afternoon in summer.
Painted in 1923, Terrasse à Vernon is a colourist masterclass, showing the view from Ma Roulotte, the Norman home of Pierre Bonnard. This picture, which was one of only three that Bonnard selected to be exhibited at the Salon d'Automne that year, and which was very well-received, is saturated with luscious greens, lapis and turquoise, while the ground has a sunny feel that is enhanced by the glimmer of light of the young woman watching the artist - or the viewer.  (Lot Notes)
I'd love to have a go at redoing it in pastels which I think might well work given the way Bonnard uses oil paint in this painting.

Note:  I have to say I demonstrated impeccable taste in my choice of painting to sketch.  I joke with arty friends that I have the ability to walk into a room and can always pick the most valuable painting in the room.  When I tell this story in future I shall be referencing this particular painting.  It went for well in excess of its pre-auction estimate (£3-4million) at Christie's Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale in London on February 9, 2011 and was actually the top lot that night.  If you like you can watch the actual auction of the painting - it's actually quite amusing! 

Terrasse à Vernon by Pierre Bonnard was knocked down at £6,400,000 which translates after all the "add ons" to  £7,209,250 ($11,578,056), a new world record price for the artist at auction!

You can also listen to Jay Vincze, Senior Director, Impressionist & Modern Art, London talk about the painting or read the Lot Notes.   I love the phrase "pictorial scaffolding"!


  1. I have a soft spot for Bonnard, as well as an admiration for his work. The first real exhibition I ever experienced was a Bonnard expo at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux in 1986, the summer of my 16th birthday. At the time I was just excited to be looking at real art, in a way that felt grown-up and serious - but I think his use of colour has stuck with me all these years, and it's only recently that I'm starting to realise what an impression that gallery visit made on me.

  2. Wonderful Bonnard - how lucky that you got to see the pre-auction exhibition. I missed it. Can't keep up with what is on in London. The Christie's website is very slow too. Liked your drawing! I will take your tip and bring my drawing stuff to exhibitions. In Berlin the main galleries don't mind you taking photos.


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