07 February 2019, The Tablet

Light fantastic


Light fantastic
 

Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory
Tate Modern, London

When the 65-year-old Pierre Bonnard unveiled his new paintings at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris in 1933, they were greeted as a ray of sunshine in dark times. “Bonnard only paints ‘Bonheur’,” enthused one critic; “When I think of Paradise, I evoke Bonnard’s world,” another gushed.

But the creator of this idyllic world, with its sun-drenched summer gardens and light-filled interiors peopled by women relaxing over tea or in the bath, knew that it was a construct of his imagination. He also knew that its principal subject – his wife, Marthe de Meligny – was not the seraphic domestic muse depicted. Her addiction to bathing as “hydrotherapy” might today be diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive; Bonnard recognised it as a symptom of the “misanthropy” that led his friends to label her a sauvage.

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