Another artist who made his home on the French Riviera was Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), a painter, illustrator, and printmaker, known especially for the stylised, decorative qualities of his paintings and his bold use of colour. He was a founding member of the Post-Impressionist group of avant-garde painters called Les Nabis,and his early work was strongly influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin, and the prints of Hokusai and other Japanese artists. He was a leading figure in the transition from impressionism to modernism. He painted landscapes, urban scenes, portraits and intimate domestic scenes, where the backgrounds, colours and painting style usually took precedence over the subject. Les Nabis dissolved in 1900 after their final exhibition, each of the artists going their own way.
Shortly thereafter, Bonnard discovered the Côte d´Azur on visits to Saint-Tropez and Nice, finally in 1920 he made his home in Le Cannet (near to Cannes). The painter first rented the villa “Le Rêve” located on Avenue Victoria, before buying in February 1926, a modest cottage-like house. His means would have enabled him to acquire a much larger and more comfortable house, but he was seduced by its quiet aspect. He much appreciated the presence nearby of his friends Matisse and Lebasque that allowed him to have continuous social and artistic contact.
His presence in Le Cannet could best be described as discreet until 1935 when he agreed to participate in the inaugural artists’ fair for which he created a landscape. He remained in Le Cannet for the duration of the war, living alone with his partner Marthe, entertained only by a circle of friends from the world of art. He died on 23 January, 1947 and was buried in the Notre-Dame des Anges cemetery alongside Marthe, who died in 1942.
His death gave rise to a lengthy trial over succession which lasted more than 20 years. Finally, in 1968, after an auction, Bonnard’s cottage became the property of Charles Terrasse, the painter’s nephew who saved his beloved Le Bosquet which, along with its gardens, is now a listed property.
Bonnard’s Collection and Museum
He produced over 300 works while living in Le Cannet, inspired by his private universe (the interior of his house, his garden), but also landscapes of the surronding area, which were explosions of colour and light. Many feel these landscapes were his best works. The surrounding landscape had a profound effect on Bonnard, much like Sainte-Victoire for Cézanne or Giverny for Monet.
These works are now largely housed in the museum in Le Cannet which was only opened in 2011 after a long project to bring it to fruition, near to Bonnard’s former home. The museum makes use of one of the few architectural remains of the Belle Epoque, l’Hotel Saint-Vianney.The museum’s forecourt, public reception area and museum “showcase”, opens onto the boulevard Carnot. To preserve the building’s esthetics, an exterior column (sheltering the lift and stairwell) was built on one side of the villa.
While encompassing Pierre Bonnard’s entire career, the museum’s content is mainly focused on his Cannet period. The collection, made up of acquisitions, donations, public and private deposits, has been growing steadily since 2003. Consisting predominantly of landscapes, added to which in January 2010 was the purchase of Nu de profil and the state loan of La Salle à manger au Cannet, 1932. The museum has also acquired some of his earlier works, such as posters, illustration and furniture projects, as well as a rare draught-screen project, La Promenade des nourrices, frise de fiacres, 1897.
Covering three floors, the museum has one or two exhibitions per annum generally one taking into account all aspects of Bonnard’s works and another on a particular theme which may include those artists whose work resonates with that of Bonnard. The exhibitions are greatly facilitated by the museums’s partnership with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. If you’re visiting Cannes, the museum is well-worth a trip.