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Susanna Coffey on Pierre Bonnard

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Susanna Coffey considers Pierre Bonnard's The Terrace at Vernonnet (1920-39) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Coffey notes that "The picture brings us to a summery get together on a golden terrace above a shimmering blue/violet/green/pale yellow landscape. The canvas itself is about the size of a commodious dining table that Bonnard has set up for us, his unseen guests. When I accept the invitation its formal beauty extends, and move closer to this seemingly warm, sensuous work, it’s clear that something much colder is being suggested. While a narrative seems to be implied, it’s hard to determine what the story is. The work’s chromatic structure, gestural facture, loosely interlocking shapes and overall composition feel joyous and lyrical. His treatment of the figures, however, puts quite a few flies in its sweet ointment. Of the six figures on this colorful painted terrace only two are not seen as isolate. The story Bonnard’s characters tell is certainly not a happy one, no joy here… I am drawn to writing about The Terrace at Vernonnet because of its formal and narrative complexity. While it’s not my favorite Bonnard, it is one of his achingly real portrayals of home and hearth. It is also a picture with a narrative that defies an easy read; its formal and iconographic qualities seem to oppose one another. Bonnard’s terrace is a place that is at once both pleasant and unsettling."