What’s your name again?: The Love Story of Pierre and “Marthe” Bonnard

Walking through the Phillips’s new Snapshot exhibition, a viewer encounters hundreds of personal photographs by  seven artists. In some cases, these photos are exploratory studies for future paintings and prints. Most of the time, however, they simply document the artist’s everyday life. What’s striking about the photographs on display is not only how much they extol the artists’ aesthetic sensibilities, but how much they  reveal about their private lives. These artists photographed their true loves, whether the streets of Amsterdam, nieces and nephews playing in the backyard of a country manor, or, in many cases, the women in their lives.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this is the first in a series of three love stories, featuring artists in the exhibition—Pierre Bonnard, Henri Evenepoel, and Edouard Vuillard—and the ladies they loved.

Bonnard, Marthe in Montval, standing by a chair, 1900-01. Modern print from original negative; 1 1/2 x 2 1/8 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Gift of the children of Charles Terrasse, 1992.

Legend has it that a 26-year-old Pierre Bonnard met 16-year-old Marthe de Méligny when he helped her cross a Paris street in 1893. Marthe had just moved to Paris after leaving her hometown of Saint-Amand-Montrond, a small town south of Bourges, and was working in a shop making artificial flowers for funerals. As the story goes, they fell in love and dedicated their lives to one another until her death in 1942. Happily ever after, right? Continue reading “What’s your name again?: The Love Story of Pierre and “Marthe” Bonnard” »

Meet Snapshot: Pierre Bonnard

Over the next few days, we’ll introduce you to the artists featured in Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, on view at the Phillips February 4 through May 6.

Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947)
Painter and printmaker Pierre Bonnard is acclaimed for his intensely expressive use of color. He began using a camera late in the decade but lost interest in photography a few years later. Bonnard primarily photographed his family and friends at home or during summers in the countryside. He used many of his photographs of his mistress outdoors in the nude as studies for two large illustrated book commissions. Approximately 200 of his photographs have survived.

William Maxwell: Monumental Head

It was 1995 when I was in my first stint as a Phillips Collection Museum Assistant as well as a full-time BFA student at the Corcoran College of Art and  Design after 20 years as a newspaper and magazine journalist. I was sitting on the front steps of the Phillips house during a work break when I saw a tall, angular older man leaving the museum with his daughter.

As they approached, I stood and said to the man, “Hi, excuse me, but are you William Maxwell? We corresponded often when I was a magazine editor in Delaware.”

I identified myself, and he said, “Oh, yes” and spelled out my last name, smiling.

Maxwell (1908-2000), a short-story writer, novelist, and fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine, was in Washington to receive the PEN/Malamud achievement award for short fiction.

He said whenever he was in Washington he visited the Phillips because he loved the collection. His biographer Barbara Burkhardt noted in William Maxwell: A Literary Life, that one of his favorite artists featured in the collection was Pierre Bonnard because of Bonnard’s “intimism.”

He also told me he particularly liked seeing Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Monumental Head (1960) because the head looked just like him (but without the really long neck).

It sure does.

(left) William Maxwell (right) Alberto Giacometti, Monumental Head, 1960. Bronze, 37 1/2 x 11 x 10 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1962.