Monday, September 21, 2009

“Purple in the grays, vermilion in the orange shadows, on a cold, fine day.”
– Pierre Bonnard.

I admire Pierre Bonnard’s Breakfast for being at once visually intense and soothingly intimate. Its visual intensity arises from the various vibrant colors employed across the canvas. Although there are distinct planes of color, they are not rigidly divided; they rather appear to almost blend. This is in part due to the distinct brushstrokes that make the colors appear to vibrate. This sense of uniform movement gives the subtle illusion that the colors are moving into each other. Also, the brushstrokes make the painting appear to be stitched in colors, like a tapestry.
Bonnard’s use of repetition of color also prevents any rigid, visual boundaries. The background has an orange section, a blue one, and a violet one. The foreground, likewise, has an orange jar, a blue cup, and a large violet blouse. This close connection in color compresses the space, making it even more intimate and preventing any clear delineation between background and foreground, thus lending the painting an ambiguous quality. For example, the tip of the young woman’s hair lightens into a light brown, almost orange shade so that it blends with the back wall. Likewise, the woman’s violet blouse has black vertical lines that diagonally lead to the black vertical lines on the violet wall. Thus, though the colors are strikingly vibrant, they gently glide across the canvas. The painting is also dabbed with darker shades, particularly the woman’s face, which is hardly exposed. This obscurity creates privacy; her hand gestures are small, delicately and tightly placed around the teapot. The woman’s absorbed nature transforms this daily, banal moment of the day into something valuable. Indeed, she is so intent on her actions that the painter and the spectator are ignored. Instead, we are the ones who are drawn into her space.

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