Bonnard at the Legion of Honor

Following on from my last post on Japanese porcelains, another highlight at the Legion of Honor museum is their current temporary exhibition on Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). This runs to several galleries, featuring over 70 works, and covering all the themes you would hope to find in a Bonnard show, from bathing nudes to still lifes to domestic interiors. There are also tiny prints of his photographic work, which I had not seen before.

This is not Asian art, of course, but I wanted to include it here because several works show the influence of Japanese prints, an aspect of the Nabis movement of the 1890s. This is especially apparent in the scenes showing women in decorative costumes with bold patterning.

For instance, the group of four panels called Women in the Garden features a series of single women in eye-catching dresses, possibly intended to represent the four seasons, a favourite theme in Japanese art. The atmospheric garden scene Twilight likewise offers a celebration of colour and pattern on the women’s dresses. I think some of the audience will be primed to make these links after visiting the show Looking East at the Asian Art Museum, discussed in this previous post.

Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia
Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
6 February to 15 May 2016

Below: Pierre Bonnard, Woman in Dress with White Dots, from Women in the Garden. 1891. Distemper on paper mounted on canvas. Height 160.3cm; width 48cm. Musee d’Orsay. Image at

bonnard women in the garden woman in dress with white dots

Below: Pierre Bonnard, Woman in Checkered Dress, from Women in the Garden. 1891. Distemper on paper mounted on canvas. Height 160.5cm; width 48cm. Musee d’Orsay. Image at

bonnard women in the garden woman in checkered dress

Below: Bonnard, Twilight: The Croquet Game, 1892. Oil on canvas. Height 130.5cm; length 162.2cm. Musee d’Orsay. Image at

bonnard twilight the croquet game

Looking East at the Asian Art Museum

monet the water lily pond
I visited Looking East a couple of months ago, soon after it opened. It is both a celebration of japonisme in all its guises, and an opportunity to see some real treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Such was the general richness and variety, I found myself struggling to marshal my thoughts, and decided to try for a return visit.

I made it back last weekend, but with a small person in tow, so we confined ourselves to a close study of one picture, which is featured on all the publicity material – The Water Lily Pond by Monet. We looked at the Japanese bridge, the willow tree, the reflections on the water, the effects of light and dark, and so on. It was very targeted viewing, but enjoyable. I confess I wasn’t thinking too hard about what Japanese art contributed to Monet’s aesthetic.

However, I did start to think harder about the premise of the exhibition. The secondary title of the show is “How Japan inspired Monet, Van Gogh and other Western artists”. The layout of the exhibition seeks to achieve exactly this aim, grouping together pictures by Japanese and Western artists that look similar and treat similar themes, be it Japanese bridges or horse racing. In other words, a mechanistic approach to something that is often very nebulous. Reading the labels seemed to ignite my inner rebel. Were those scenes of Parisian life really taking their cue from Japanese ukiyo-e?

I have a copy of the catalogue (thanks to my lovely sister) and I will be reading it, because I think it is easier, and maybe more fruitful, to explore connections of this sort in an essay format. I absolutely recommend the exhibition because it is full of wonderful things, no question. However, I think those wonderful things outshine and transcend the format in which they are presented, so do just go along and enjoy the show.

Looking East: How Japan inspired Monet, Van Gogh and other Western Artists
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
30 October 2015 to 7 February 2016

Above: Claude Monet, The Water Lily Pond, 1900. Oil on canvas. Height 90.2cm; width 92.7cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image at

Impressionists at the Royal Academy

Not Asian Art but I did enjoy the Royal Academy’s exhibition of late 19th century French painting, mainly Impressionist, from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.  It includes several pictures reflecting Europe’s love affair with Japanese art and for this reason was recommended at the gallery talk on Japanese lacquer.  Renoir, in Girl With a Fan, shows his subject clasping a Japanese fan, suggesting a young woman of taste, at ease with current fashion.  The design of the fan, with its figures and calligraphy, is sketchy and imprecise, making it all the more tantalizing.  Further Japanese art objects appear in Stevens’ A Duchess (The Blue Dress) – a Japanese screen with mountain scenery, a tablecloth with birds – but with a serious nod to 17th century Dutch genre painting.  Meanwhile, Bonnard, in Women with a Dog, juxtaposes contrasting fabrics, checked, spotted or ruched, in an idiom straight from Japanese woodblock prints.

From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism
Royal Academy, London
7 July 2012 to 23 September 2012

Above: The Duchess (formerly known as The Blue Dress), Alfred Stevens. ca. 1866. Oil on panel. Height 31.9cm; width 26cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Image: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, at