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Ownership of The Arts Voyager & Dance Insider is available FREE to a new owner who will keep the present editor on staff part-time and help him get a carte de sejour to return to France, plus provide health insurance in France. For details please contact editor & publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.


The Arts Voyager, 4-22: Let there be light
'Snapshots' at the Phillips: How science helped Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, Vallotton, Riviere, Breitner, and Evenepoel illuminate an art

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Marthe standing in the sun, in Montval, 1900-1901. Modern print from original negative (sepia-toned gelatin silver print), 1 1/2 x 2 1/8 in.. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Gift of M. Antoine Terrasse, 1992. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY. Most likely one of the photos that served as the basis for the lithographs Bonnard created for "Daphnis & Chloe," published by Ambroise Vollard.

Text copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
Images courtesy the Phillips Collection

"I am convinced that the ill-applied developments of photography, like all other purely material developments of progress, have contributed much to the impoverishment of the French artistic genius, which is already so scarce.... (I)t is... obvious that this industry, by invading the territories of art, has become art's most mortal enemy, and that the confusion of their several functions prevents any of them from being properly fulfilled."

-- Charles Baudelaire, "Salon of 1859," first published in the Révue Francaise, Paris, June 10-July 20, 1859. Quoted in "Charles Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art," Jonathan Mayne editor and translator (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1955) and cited here.

If the Impressionists were first and foremost about transmitting the effects of a diffuse object, light, on a solid object, canvas or paper, the Post-Impressionists expanded this by applying light to the intimate places and spaces: the bedroom, the bathtub, the contours of a wife's naked belly of Pierre Bonnard; the mother's repose of Edouard Vuillard.... They extended the Impressionists' reflecting of direct light in outdoor spaces to the effects of indirect interior light: the corner of a parlor illumined by sun rays from an unseen window; the glow of a woman's body reflected in a mirror; the contrast of shadows on an umbrella shading a girl on a beach with the glimmer of the sea. Probing the more subtle effects of light as they did, then, its nuances and gradations, it was natural that when the handheld camera made photography universally available in 1888, the Post-Impressionists would avariciously grab it up, taking advantage of the device's ability to freeze the effects of light -- on landscapes urban, pastoral, and corporeal -- to make them stand still, as it were, so that they could later study these effects at leisure in the studio, and use them as sources of inspiration for their own depictions.


Left: Pierre Bonnard, Marthe in the bathtub, Vernouillet, c. 1908-10. Modern print from original negative (sepia-toned gelatin silver print), 3 1/8 x 2 1/8 in.. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Gift of the children of Charles Terrasse, 1992. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY. Right: Pierre Bonnard, "Woman Standing in Her Bathtub, 1925. Lithograph on paper, 18 5/8 x 13 in.. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Gift of Marjorie Phillips, 1984. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY. Note the gap in years between the photo and the representation; to Bonnard, his companion and muse Marthe wore her youth eternally.


Clever as are some of the juxtapositions in the Phillips Collection's "Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard" -- on view in Washington, D.C. through May 6 and at the Indianapolis Museum of Art June 8 - Sept. 2 -- of photographs paired with paintings, drawings, and prints of similar subjects, what's more interesting is how they confirm and elaborate our understanding of the specific uses of and obsessions with light by these painters, particularly Bonnard and Vuillard, but also Felix Vallotton, Henri Riviere, Maurice Denis, George Hendrik Breitner, and Henri Evenepoel, all featured in this exhibition of 70 paintings, prints, and drawings along with more than 200 photographs, most never before shown in public.


Pierre Bonnard, Marthe seated in profile on the bed, her left leg hanging down, 1899-1900. Modern print from original negative (sepia-toned gelatin silver print), 1 5/8 x 2 in.. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Gift of M. Antoine Terrasse, 1992. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY. Bonnard's nude photographs inspired the drawing "Summer" and the lithograph accompanying the poem "Limbo," illustrations he made for "Parallelement," an anthology of poems by Paul Verlaine.


For Bonnard, photos of her highlight, literally and figuratively (no pun intended), his artistic / romantic rapture for Marthe Bonnard, his lifelong companion, wife, and muse, and even explain the power of special planes of her body, notably her belly, to draw and reflect light. Vuillard's light was slightly more expansive, abetting his adulation of his mother and illuminating their apartment on the Place Vintimille, overlooking what is now the Square Hector Berlioz in Paris's 9th arrondissement. (The square itself isn't so grand in person -- the little park below Montmartre is now covered with astroturf, lorded over by a statue of Berlioz -- as it is in Vuillard's painted imagination, as seen from his window.) Photographs of her support how hallowed Mme Vuillard -- who hung on until he was 60 -- was by her son; she almost seems to sport a halo. Indeed, it was often Mom to whom Vuillard entrusted the printing. Using a process that required daylight, Mme Vuillard would sit at her window with her needlework while placing special photographic paper under the negatives. When the time was right, she'd 'fix' the images in a soup plate. Almost 2,000 snapshots remain in the family archive.


Pierre Bonnard, "The Mirror in the Green Room," 1908, Oil on paper, 19 3/4 x 25 3/4 in. Indianapolis Museum of Art, James K. Roberts Fund. ©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


About 200 of Bonnard's photographs have survived. By contrast, Maurice Denis -- considered the father of the Nabis movement to which Bonnard and Vuillard belonged -- left behind 2,689 prints and 1,250 negatives, taken with at least three different cameras: a small Pocket Kodak, a Kodak No. 2 Bullet camera, and a Folding Pocket Kodak. No Kodaks for Henri Riviere, who employed a light-weight box camera with glass plates when he had the extraordinary -- and exclusive -- opportunity to photograph the Eiffel Tower during its construction and completion. Considering that the Eiffel was widely scorned by some as a horrid, cold steel modern blight on the Parisian horizon when it rose in 1889 (the nay-sayers should have seen it when the city's current mayor shamelessly hung a Paris hearts the Olympics poster on the tower in a doomed effort to win 2012 hosting honors), Riviere's prescience and clairvoyance in seeing the Eiffel's artistic value is as impressive as his technical prowess in photographing it. (Known for the Japanese woodcut style he imposed on his work, Riviere also choreographed shadow theater for the lower Montmartre nightclub Le Chat Noir, down the street from the Vuillards' apartment on the Place Vintimille.) You may not have heard of him -- I hadn't, anyway -- but the French-Belge Henri Evenepoel contributes a photograph that is intriguing in its own right, a self-portrait in a three-way mirror, even without any painting or lithograph to compare it to, and piques curiosity to discover more of the 1,000 paintings and drawings of Parisian life Evenepoel produced before he died at 27.


Left: Pierre Bonnard, "Crouching Nude in a Tub," 1925. Pencil and gray wash, 8 5/16 x 6 13/16 in.. Private collection. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Right: Pierre Bonnard, "Narrow Street in Paris," c. 1897. Oil on cardboard, 14 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1937. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


As for Felix Vallotton, while he left only 20 photographs behind, seeing him presented in the context of photography still casts new light on this under-appreciated artist. (At the recent Hugo Collection auction at Christie's Paris, one of the few items which didn't sell, despite its modest pre-sale estimate of less than a thousand Euros, was a stunning pair of woodcuts by Vallotton, "La Charge" and "L'anarchiste,", both depicting bedlam cleanly. ) The shadows on the parasols in "On the Beach" suggest this photographic influence. Similarly, Bonnard's 1899 lithograph "The Square at Evening," atypically dark for the artist, illuminated only with scarce select spots of yellow, suggests inspiration by the quality of the photographic negative which reverses the usual balance of light and dark.


Pierre Bonnard, "Movement of the Street," c. 1907. Oil on canvas, 14 x 19 1/4 in.. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., acquired 1931. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.


It's fascinating to see George Hendrik Breitner -- who Arts Voyager readers met in our coverage of the current breathtaking exhibition of works from the Fritz Lugt Collection by the Fondation Custodia at the Institut Neerlandais in Paris -- daringly grouped here for the first time with the Nabis. (Perhaps it took an American institution to do that; the French can be notoriously chauvinistic. Try looking for non-French cheese at a Paris fromagerie or outre-France rouge at a wine boutique.) And yet, if he's in a class of his own, Breitner definitely belongs to the Post-Impressionist class; only where the Nabis intensified and extended the techniques and palettes of Cezanne and Pissarro on literal subjects, Breitner anticipated Monet's late-life experiments in abstraction. (To illustrate the point, we've included here an example from the Lutz Collection.)

Breitner and Riviere's 'Street Scenes and Cityscapes' are the subject of a special program May 3 and Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, and Evenepoel of an April 26 program 'Home is Where the Art is,' both at the Phillips Collection, where "Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard" continues through May 6, before moving to the Indianapolis Museum of Art June 8 - Sept. 2.


Pierre Bonnard, "The Square at Evening," 1899. Color lithograph on paper, 16 x 21 in.. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., acquired 1954. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.


Left: George Hendrik Breitner, "Girl in Red Kimono, Geesje Kwak," 1893-95. Oil on canvas, 24 x 19 1/2 in. Noortman Master Paintings, Amsterdam. On behalf of private collection, Netherlands. Right: George Hendrik Breitner, Girl in a kimono (Geesje Kwak) in Breitner's studio on Lauriersgracht, Amsterdam, n.d. Gelatin silver print, framed: 12 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.. Collection RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History), The Hague. Kwak, the model, was a 16-year-old hat seller from Amsterdam's Jordaan district.


George Hendrik Breitner (Rotterdam 1857-1923, Amsterdam), "Nude with black stockings on a bed." Panel, 20.3 x 30.5 cm; signed. Acquired in 2011; inv. 2011-s.19. Not part of the Phillips Collection show, but from the exposition "Un Universe Intime, Tableaux de la Collection Fritz Lugt" of the Fondation Custodia, on view at the Institut Neerlandais in Paris through May 27.


Left: Maurice Denis, Two Girls, paddling in the sea, swinging little Madeleine, Perros-Guirec, 1909. Gelatin silver print, 5 7/8 x 6 1/2 in. Musée Maurice Denis, le Prieure, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Right: Maurice Denis, "On the Beach (Two Girls against the Light)," 1892. Oil on board mounted on panel, 8 1/8 x 9 7/8 in. Private collection, Germany, ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


Felix Vallotton, "On the Beach," 1899. Oil on board, 16 1/2 x 18 7/8 in. Private collection, Switzerland.


Left: Henri Riviere, The Eiffel Tower, Painter on a knotted rope along a vertical girder, below an intersection of girders, 1889. Gelatin silver print, 4 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Gift of Mme Bernard Granet and her children and Mlle Solange Granet, 1981. ©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Right: Henri Riviere, "Plate 36, The Painter in the Tower," from "Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower," 1888-1902. Lithograph, 8 1/4 x 6 5/8 in.. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.


Left: Edouard Vuillard, Madame Vuillard and Romain Coolus, c. 1905. Gelatin silver print, 3 3/8 x 3 1/2 in.. Private collection. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Edouard Vuillard, "The Newspaper," c. 1896-98. Oil on cardboard, 12 3/4 x 21 in.. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, acquired 1929. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS, New York.


Edouard Vuillard, "Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist," 1893. Oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 22 1/4 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. Saidie A. May, 1934. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Left: Edouard Vuillard, Thadée and Misia Natanson in the salon, rue St. Florentin, 1898. Gelatin silver print, 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.. Private collection. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Edouard Vuillard, The two sunshades, 1902. Gelatin silver print, 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.. Private collection. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Henri Evenepoel (1872-1899), Self-portrait in three-way mirror, 1898. Modern gelatin silver print, 2011, from original negative. 1 1/2 x 2 in. © Archives of Contemporary Art in Belgium-Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.


Pierre Bonnard, Model taking off her blouse in Bonnard's Paris studio, c. 1916. Original untinted print, 3 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY. The young woman could easily be mistaken for a contemporary Parisienne, proof that, "Plus ca change...."


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