Pierre Bonnard, Japanese Art, and his early artistic life: le Nabi très Japonard

Pierre Bonnard, Japanese Art, and his early artistic life: le Nabi très Japonard

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Pierre Bonnard is known for his love of Japanese art. Despite this, the actual cultural impact of the land of the rising sun remains open to debate outside of art. However, he wasn’t nicknamed le Nabi très Japonard (the ultra-Japanese Nabi) for nothing because Bonnard felt a certain freedom after immediately viewing this art form.

Interestingly, Bonnard was born one year before the Meiji Restoration of 1868 that altered Japan dramatically. Hence, the timing of events in Japan would ironically open new horizons for upcoming Japanese artists who would move away from ukiyo-e. Yet, for Bonnard, and other European artists, the fading power of ukiyo-e was fresh and invigorating because to these artists it was something new.

It is known that Bonnard’s father had hoped that he would enter the legal profession. However, for Bonnard, the world of art was his aspiration. Hence, after quitting law he soon set on the path of being an artist despite the risks involved.

The turning point for Bonnard – in relation to Japanese art – was a major exhibition of prints from the land of the rising sun that was on open display at the École des Beaux-Arts. This exhibition highlighted over one thousand Japanese ukiyo-e art pieces at a time that a fad had emerged in Paris for things related to Japan. Therefore, with his studio being known for showing the works of Hiroshige, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, and other Japanese artists, the spirit of Japanese art became firmly entrenched within the mindset of Bonnard.

Of course, other famous artists admired Japanese art to varying degrees. This notably applies to Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt – and many other artists – including James Abbot McNeill Whistler. Yet, for the young Bonnard, it is clear that his admiration was to a much higher degree during his informative years.

Overall, it is known that at a time of revolutionary change within the soul of Bonnard that the art world of Japan impacted upon him. Indeed, just like Bonnard left law school and felt new freedom at such a young age, the world of ukiyo-e also freed him because new artistic concepts entered his mind. Therefore, all the right artistic jigsaw pieces fell into place for Bonnard during his early love affair with Japanese art. Hence, Bonnard was rightly called le Nabi très Japonard!

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