In 1888, after studying and briefly practicing Law to please his father, Bonnard attended the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris and met Denis, Vuillard, Ranson and Sérusier, with whom he went on to form the Nabis group. Bonnard’s early influences were Gauguin and Japanese prints.
The first group exhibition of the Nabis took place in 1891 in the Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Early in his career Bonnard revealed a great flair for decoration and design for fans, furniture, lithography, theatre decor, and book illustration, but from 1900 onwards committed himself to painting. He painted scenes of daily life in interiors in dark tones, and the term ‘Intimiste’ was coined to describe to his work and that of Vuillard on this theme.
Bonnard’s principal subjects became still lifes, landscapes, and nudes (often of Marthe de Méligny, his partner, and later his wife). He was influenced by Monet, whilst not adhering to the precepts of Impressionism, and after 1912 paid regular visits to Giverny. He painted in the Seine valley until discovering the light and colour of the Midi in 1910. Between 1910 and 1920 Bonnard’s preoccupation was the balancing of his fascination with colour with the elements of composition and drawing, and the results of this process were masterpieces such as Summer in Normandy (1912). In 1926, a year after marrying, he bought the Villa du Bosquet above Le Cannet (Midi). It became his centre of activity and he remained there throughout the Second World War.
From 1920 Bonnard enjoyed an uninterrupted string of successes, and his work was admired by Signac, Matisse and Rouault. He was acclaimed in the USA, where his work was already being collected by Duncan Phillips; in 1926 he went to Pittsburgh, PA, to serve as a member of the jury of the Carnegie International exhibition, also visiting Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New York. Bonnard’s late landscapes and interiors looking through to gardens are notable for their luminosity.