Practising art in its multifarious forms - painting, drawing, prints, decorative art, sculpture, photography - Bonnard advocated a basically decorative aesthetic. His acute sense of light, his fascination for the bright colours and utopia of the Midi region, perceived as a rediscovered antique paradise, led him to represent his vision of Arcadia, revealing an instinctive and supremely sensitive artist.
The exhibition is divided into eight sections: Japanism, intimacy, the unexpected, photography, portraits, wild garden, colour, and great decorative works.
The Japanese influence is obvious from the early days of his work: outlined forms, flat areas of bright colour, different levels of perspective... as is his interest in intimate themes, like washing or bathing.
Unexpected, strange, phantasmagorical qualities suddenly appear in Bonnard’s paintings, adding a touch of mystery to commonplace scenes.
Bonnard was a keen photographer, and his off-centre framings and soft blurring confirm the spontaneity and the aesthetic bias.
When painting family portraits or portraits of his friends, Bonnard staged his models, and also increased the number of self-portraits produced at various points throughout his life.
Innovative interior views, extending into the outside world, juxtapose the house and the "wild garden" in the same space. The discovery of the Côte d'Azur inspired him to become bolder. He intensified his palette, and changed the scale of his paintings. Bonnard produced major decors for his friends, art dealers and collectors, such as the triptych La Méditerranée [The Mediterranean]. Combining pastoral visions with memories of Antiquity and contemporary scenes, he affirms the autonomy of the picture’s space and the free expression of the painter’s fantasy.
After the numerous Bonnard exhibitions held the world over, the Musee d'Orsay, which manages the artist's output, owed it to itself to devote a retrospective to him that is representative of all his creative periods.