Pierre Bonnard was proclaimed the best painter of his era by his friend and contemporary Matisse, with whom he corresponded for over twenty years. It is however less known that besides being a painter, Bonnard was also a much-desired illustrator. Draughtsmanship – both as a preliminary study for a painting, and as a goal unto itself – takes up an important place within Bonnard's body of work.
The children's world of Bonnard and Chauveau
Surgeon, writer, painter, sculptor and draughtsman Léopold Chauveau has written and illustrated several children's books. The narrator of Les histoires du petit Renaud is little Renaud's father, with whom Renaud has short conversations, often at the beginning and ending of the story. While talking and narrating, they arrive at answers to all kinds of subjects, some serious and some less so. These include practical matters a child must learn, like hygiene and politeness. Bonnard's illustrations follow the story closely, with a strong eye for detail. For instance, the little bear (pictured on the cover) is not under the sheets with the boy – 'that would not be appropriate, for a bear like that gets around'. The bear is positioned between the sheet and the blanket. The penultimate story in the collection describes this little bear's life, returning to his real parents who raise him with love and care to become a super-smart bear. The little bear later picks up the little boy Toto in order to raise him the same way and make him highly intelligent too. But they try to teach him too much – the boy is not yet ready for this.
Drawing as sense, Colour as reason
Influenced mainly by the painter Gauguin and by Japanese lithography, Bonnard quickly developed his own style. He did not seek to imitate reality; he wanted to express his personal sentiments and feelings. 'Demonstrate that the artist was here', was one of his sayings. He was fascinated by colour and perspective, and continued to experiment with them throughout his lifetime. According to Bonnard, drawings express feelings, while colour stands for reason. The characters in the five stories – a large snail, a snake, the little bear, a turtle, and a large, child-eating tree – were sketched swiftly by Bonnard, with plenty of dynamics and great expression. The colours have also been applied swiftly, but not randomly: they often accentuate specific details, like the eyes of a wolf (in burning orange), or the blue squares on a blanket.
The size of the drawings has also been carefully considered. In the story of the snail, the animal dominates the opening page on which it is pictured as a proud, big snail. Further on in the story, when he has got himself into trouble, he seems very small beside the enormous wheels of a farm wagon.
Bonnard created 49 pen drawings for Les histoires du petit Renaud, which were coloured with aquarelle in various shades of red and blue. The reproductions in the book have been made to fit between the lines of text, with the colour panes sometimes continuing beneath the text, further enhancing the unity that exists between text and illustration.
|Description:||Les histoires du petit Renaud / [rec. par Leopold Chauveau ; et enrichies d'ill. dessinées et coloriées par Pierre Bonnard]. - Paris : Gallimard, 1926. - 89 p. : ill. ; 29 cm|
|Printer:||F. Paillart (Abbeville (Somme))|
|This copy:||Number 22 of 322 on Arches|
|Bibliography:||Bénézit 2-529 ; Carteret V-48 ; Mahé I-492 ; Monod 2715|
|Shelf-mark:||Koopm K 143|
- Bonnard. Paris. Braun, 1946
- Léopold Chauveau, Histoire de Roitelet. Amsterdam, Meulenhoff, 1936
- Pierre Courthion, Bonnard, peintre du merveilleux. Lausanne, Marguerat, 1945
- Elisabeth Hutton Turner, Pierre Bonnard: Early and late. London, Wilson, 2002
- Timothy Hyman, Bonnard. London, Thames and Hudson, 1998
- Suzanne Page, Pierre Bonnard: The work of art: Suspending time. Paris, Paris-Musées, 2006
- Annette Vaillant, Bonnard, ou le bonheur de voir. Neuchâtel, Editions Ides et Calendes, 1965
Edition statement and first text page (p. )
'Histoire du gros escargot' with illustration by Bonnard (p. 21)
'Les histoires du petit Renaud' with illustration by Bonnard (p. 80)