Phillips Flashback: A Visit From Pierre Bonnard


Bonnard_Early Spring

Pierre Bonnard, Early Spring, 1908. Oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 52 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1925; © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

French painter Pierre Bonnard visited The Phillips Collection in 1926 after serving on the jury of the Carnegie International, an art exhibition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the train to Washington, Bonnard was so fascinated by the architecture of a club sandwich that he made a sketch of it.

Bonnard letter from the archives

Letter from The Phillips Collection’s archive from Pierre Bonnard

During his visit to the Phillips, Bonnard asked Marjorie Phillips, an artist in her own right, to lend him some paints and brushes so he could “improve” a section of his painting Early Spring. Marjorie Phillips, fearing the worst, fibbed and told Bonnard that all of her paints and brushes were in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, where she went to work during the summer months.

Bonnard was enchanted with the color soaked work of American painter John Twachtman, particularly his canvas entitled The Emerald Pool, based on his observations of hot springs in Yellowstone Park.

Duncan Phillips asked Bonnard to look at half a dozen of Marjorie Phillips’s paintings. Bonnard suggested, “draw more” and “get the character.” Following his return to France, Bonnard wrote to the Phillipses, “I still work despite my age. I imagine Mrs. Duncan Phillips continues to paint as sensitively as in the paintings I saw on my American trip.”

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