The Terrace at Vernon (1939) by Pierre
The Terrace at Vernon (1939)
Name: The Terrace at Vernon (1939)
One of the most popular Post-Impressionist
painters, Pierre Bonnard was an influential contributor to the decorative
wing of Post-Impressionism
and, throughout his career, remained an outstanding exponent of decorative
art in various forms. (See also: The
Green Blouse, 1919.)
In 1912, Bonnard bought a small country house which he called 'Ma Roulotte' (My Caravan) at Vernonnet, a suburb of Vernon on the river Seine some seventy kilometres west of Paris. Claude Monet (1840-1926) was living at Giverny, about four kilometres along the river, and the two artists visited one another as neighbours. Unlike Monet, whose garden was a masterpiece of formal planning and contrivance, Bonnard preferred an untidy garden, full of wild flowers, shrubs and trees, which he could survey from the terrace, or deck, built on to his house at first-floor level. Both deck and garden feature in a number of large paintings of Vernonnet by Bonnard - paintings in which one is usually aware of the presence of the River Seine, which ran close to Ma Roulotte.
In The Terrace at Vernon the three principal figures in the foreground are immediately noticeable; three more figures are standing on the extreme left, at the point where the deck runs off at a right angle. On the other side of the picture, in the distance, are two more figures, tiny and almost imperceptible, boating on the river.
The dappled sunlight falling onto the table in the foreground draws attention to Bonnard's skilful manipulation of the curved line. The knot in the tree trunk is answered by an elliptical object in the centre of the table, which in turn is echoed in the shape of the table itself and again in the platter of grapes. Bonnard thus sets up a rhythm of curves which resonates throughout the painting - in the shrubbery, for example, and in the foliage of the tree in the middle distance.
The figure of the woman directly facing the viewer is insubstantial. By lining her up with the edge of the tree, Bonnard flattens her almost to a cut-out. She appears to be in a reverie, her mind elsewhere, but her gaze and gesture are unexplained. The figure of the young girl with the basket of fruit next to her is similarly distant. By contrast, another girl rushes in from the right with her arm raised in a theatrical gesture. The viewer is witness to some domestic mini-drama which is being enacted in silence. The painting is like an excerpt from the middle of a novel which we have not read.
A devotee of the theatre, Bonnard has painted his terrace as a stage upon which furniture and other props articulate the action; the trees are stage flats and the landscape is a painted backdrop. The scene is one in which inanimate objects and shapes, such as the wine bottle or the knot in the tree, have their own existence on equal terms with people. People and objects alike emerge from a vibrant surface of colour, a tapestry of warm orange-reds and cool blue-violets and greens. The whole is profoundly decorative, and by such elaborate means the artist has trapped time to give us a sense of the unending present.
The Terrace at Vernonnet (1939) derives from an earlier study in grisaille and is one of the last views he completed of Ma Roulotte.
For analysis of another colourist painting, see: Nasturtiums and the 'Dance' (1912) by Henri Matisse.
de Paris (c.1890-1940)
Art Movements (c.1870-1970)
For the meaning of other decorative paintings, see: Homepage.
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