Pierre BONNARD | View of Cannet [Vue du Cannet]

Pierre BONNARD
France 1867 – 1947

View of Cannet
[Vue du Cannet]
1927
oil on canvas
canvas 233.6 (h) x 233.6 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift of the Fondation Meyer 2008
© Musée d'Orsay, Dist RMN / Patrice Schmidt

In 1926 Bonnard bought a house, the Villa Rose, on the French Riviera, high in the village of Le Cannet.1 He renamed it ‘Le Bosquet’ (meaning wooded or bosky). View of Le Cannet, like the decorative panels of Water games and Pleasure (cats 109 and 110), is among the largest canvases Bonnard ever painted. Shaped like an architectural feature, perhaps a window or archway, the vista is contained within a valley seen from the hilltop.

Instead of using conventional greens, Bonnard depicted the palm trees and woods, which frame the composition, in silvery-blues and lime-yellow. The village houses are presented as white walls and red or orange tiled roofs, all but drowning in the bright gold of the mimosa trees. They serve as a yellow fog, half masking the town—like a Renaissance village in an Old Master painting, timeless and perfect. But the scene is also modern, as we can see in the apartment buildings impinging on its edges. At first sight the town seems uninhabited, then we notice people gathering at its arched entrance, perhaps going to market or other daily activities.

Bonnard’s search for beauty and harmony is revealed in the contrasting elements of the painting. The cubes and prisms of buildings appear artificial and geometrically precise, allowing a firm structure for the central valley. Natural elements, especially the sweeping arcs of palm foliage and the silvery-grey bushes, are less formal, and highly decorative.

Characteristics such as beauty and decoration became deeply unfashionable as Modernist artists sought more abstract and extreme solutions to pictorial and aesthetic questions in the twentieth century. But for Bonnard, decorative qualities do not detract from the work of art, they are essential. As Henri Matisse stated:

The character of modern art is to participate in life. A painting in an interior spreads joy around it through its colours, which calm us. The colours obviously are not composed haphazardly, but expressively. A painting on a wall should be like a bouquet of flowers in an interior.2

The wealthy industrialist Bernard Reichenbach bought this painting for his new house in Paris, where it probably hung in an alcove in the bedroom.3 For the owner of the painting on a grey Parisian day, surely Bonnard’s View of Le Cannet brought a breath of southern spring.

Christine Dixon

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Le Cannet, then a separate village on the French Riviera, is now part of the large urban area of Cannes.
  2. Quoted in Gloria Groom, Beyond the easel: decorative painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Roussel, 1890–1930, Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago 2001, p. 146, notes 16 and 165.
  3. Acquisitions, October 2008, Musée d’Orsay online, viewed 13 August 2009, www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/acquisitions/recent-acquisition.html#c29264.