Pierre BONNARD
La fenêtre

Oil on canvas
108.6 x 88.6 cm (42 3/4 x 34 7/8 in.)

From "Techniques of the Great Masters of Art" [a horrible title for a good book - m.h.]

"In 1925 Bonnard moved to Le Cannet near Cannes. La fenêtre is a view from the window of his house Le Bosquet, where he died in 1947. Bonnard required the white priming in this canvas to act in two ways: firstly, left uncovered, it is used as a tone or shade of white in several parts of the picture, such as some house sides; secondly, it gives the colors additional radiance, if they are applied thinly enough, just as watercolors gain their brilliance from the whiteness of the paper...

"[Bonnard was] fascinated by Japanese prints with their powerful compositions and purity of color. In La fenêtre this influence can be seen in the almost flat diamond pattern of the tablecloth, and the abstract rhythm of the green shutter slats which have a tendency to flatten out the perspective of the composition and make the distant colors jump forward with surprising strength.

"Bonnard used a palette of about eight high quality colors which he applied, for the most part, very thinly They were made to perform a great number of functions. A scarlet vermilion was applied pure, speckled beneath the green window bar. Bonnard often mixed it with a Venetian red which appears in the cover of the portfolio on the table. Mixed together they make a warm pink (with the addition of zinc white). An expensive cobalt violet produced a near rose pink when mixed with the vermilion and white in the writing box at left, and a cool brown when combined with the colors of the window frame at the top left of the picture. This same violet adds a coldness to the sky next to a cerulean blue, and is a powerful dark when touched into the hair of the woman.

"Only two blues were used. The cerulean can be seen pure in the distant hills running in from the left and in dashes on the right of the window frame. There are only small amounts of the cobalt blue, often applied with a finger to add a particular depth, such as in the tiny area between the chin and arm of the figure.

"Two yellows are discernible. A lemon cadmium appears with rare impasto over some foreground roofs and thinned with white for glazes in the foreground cloth. Yellow ochre complements the lemon to provide some drawing around the red book. Vermilion and lemon were put side by side to color the rooftops 'orange'; a common Divisionist device.

"Bonnard used viridian to great effect. He thinned it with zinc white to create the transparent acid green of the shutters and in the angled window bar. It was also used in the heavy green of the clumps of woodland.

"White is one of the keys to an understanding of Bonnard's technique in La fenêtre. A flake white was used in the thickly applied pure white sheet offered to view, which then calls across to the pure whites and primed canvas of the houses, creating a set of optical stepping stones into the distance.

"Bonnard also employed a black in a similar way. It was applied very pure, not to darken any of the colors artificially This was a practice inherited from Monet. Ivory black can be found in the ink pot and in the dark areas of trees which draw the eye into and across the distance; like opening a Japanese fan.

"Bonnard's planning of this painting is complex, and would have taken a long time in order to record color and light precisely while, at the same time, sacrificing nothing of its transparency and depth. There is evidence of the meticulous brushwork which achieves such results in places such as the grid of the tablecloth, and in the house roofs and in the verticals at right. The only area which is truly opaque is the rectangle of sky. Much of the painting was applied with rags rather than brushes. This technique creates an unfocused appearance yet allows a strong sculptural quality in the 'architecture' of the painting.

"Bonnard's slow, planned application of color next to color or superimposed one on the other, forces the viewer to actually do the color mixing and see the world in skillfully contrived contrasts. The result is a sophisticated color 'mechanism' which convinces with painterly deception, as Bonnard himself confessed: 'II faut mentir' (one must lie)."