Dining Room in the Country

Dining Room in the Country, Pierre BonnardI love art. Paintings. Drawing. Sculpture. Design. As a former art history major, there is little that bores me in the realm of visual culture. Considering this, as well as being a Massachusetts native, I am reluctant, and well… embarrassed… to admit that only two weeks ago did I discover the treasure that is the Worcester Art Museum (WAM). The WAM houses a diverse collection of ancient, medieval, and modern art, also earning extensive bragging rights for its assemblage of notable artists. Claude Monet? Yes! Paul Gauguin? You bet! Henri Matisse? Mmm hmm! Walking into the second floor gallery for the first time was equivalent to being part of the Oprah’s Favorite Things audience. YOU get a Matisse! YOU get a Gauguin! YOU get a Renoir! The art is definitely NOT up for grabs, but for art history fanatics, it’s a big deal. I squealed, squeaked, gasped, and swooned spotting the Gauguin. The lineup was an impressive surprise. No, I’ll never forget that initial feeling of unmitigated nerdy joy.

Image is of the Entrance of the Worcester Art Museum
Worcester Art Museum

Alas, I did not venture to the WAM for a star struck morning stroll through exhibit halls, as wonderful as that was. The WAM is currently hosting the most famous work of a particular French Post Impressionist, and I needed to see the piece in all its painterly glory. Post Impressionism (most active from 1880-1920) is the art movement that reacted against the naturalistic light, style, and limitations of its predecessor, Impressionism. It’s my favorite. The vivid colors, thick paint applications, form distortion, and geometric forms were a paradigm for modern art as we now know it. Not sure about the difference? Worry not! See the image below? How are the two examples alike? How are they different? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below…

Image shows the comparison of Impressionism against Post Impressionism.
Comparing Impressionism against Post Impressionism.

Post Impressionism encompasses other art movements. The artist snagging my interest this month is Pierre Bonnard who belonged to a small Post Impressionist group, Les Nabis, or ‘the prophets’. Bonnard, and the others in this group, wanted to rejuvenate art by abandoning three dimensional perspective in favor of flat, two-dimensional planes. Unlike the others, Bonnard was not interested in symbolist mystique. Rather, he enjoyed capturing the simplistically intimate rituals of daily life. He favored comfort. However, the scenes were not Bonnard’s subject. As Post Impressionists do, Bonnard valued color. His particular obsession sets him apart from his Les Nabis peers. If Bonnard mixed and loved a particular color, he would then repaint older works with it. He was fascinated by exploring the mysteries and layers of pigment through test, experimentation, and investigation of relationships and harmony. For Bonnard, color is the sole subject.

Image is a photograph of Pierre Bonnard. 1867-1947.
Pierre Bonnard. 1867-1947.

Color obsession is not Pierre Bonnard’s only unique methodology. Bonnard systematically tacked massive sheets of canvas to his studio walls and created the works from memory. This unconventional method is why I found myself frolicking around Gallery 209 at the WAM a few Saturday mornings ago. Arguably Bonnard’s most celebrated work, Dining Room in the Country, is on view at the WAM as a loan until June 19th. I was eager to see it.

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room in the Country, 1913, oil on canvas, Lent by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The John R. Van Derlip Fund.
Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room in the Country, 1913, oil on canvas, Lent by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The John R. Van Derlip Fund.

A quick glance at this piece describes the typical Bonnard-ian snapshot of life with his wife and cats in their countryside home just outside of Paris and along the Seine River. A closer examination of this piece shows us much more. Bonnard’s wife is a mere sketch- we hardly know anything about her through her husband’s depiction. She’s a prop- a minor suggestion- within a larger context. Instead, Bonnard takes greater care in the unconventional portrayal of light, dimension, and movement through adventurous brush strokes and a vivacious, electric palette.

Image is Details of Dining Room in the Country, Pierre Bonnard
Details of Dining Room in the Country, Pierre Bonnard

I knew that Bonnard’s work is typically large, but my first live glimpse of Dining Room in the Country left me awestruck. I’d never seen his work prior.  The colors. The movement. The massiveness. You’re somehow in there- that suggestion of a dining room, resisting the temptation to shoo the smudge of a cat away from the table. I stood in front of this piece for twenty minutes, at least, mesmerized by every vibrant stroke that meandered and led me to another equally colorful and curious crevice. That’s the best part about viewing art in its pure form, especially this piece. It will enrapture.

Gallery 209. Worcester Art Museum. Worcester, Massachusetts.
Gallery 209. Worcester Art Museum. Worcester, Massachusetts.

What do you think? Unfortunately, digital reproductions fail to convey the true integrity of the art and those subtly beautiful miniscule details, so I encourage all to see it live. Regardless, take a trip to the Worcester Art Museum and experience the world differently by surrendering to the modern delights in Gallery 209.

À la prochaine.

Worcester Art Museum
55 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609