The NGV’s new exhibition displays the art of Pierre Bonnard within immersive scenery

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The NGV’s new exhibition displays the art of Pierre Bonnard within immersive scenery

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Photo: Lillie Thompson
words by staff writer

This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to experience Pierre Bonnard's work within a vivid scenography designed by India Mahdavi, one of the world’s leading designers working today.

Bright colourful scenes have taken over the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) with the highly anticipated arrival of Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi, officially opening today, June 9.

Making its world premiere, the exhibition presents more than 100 works by the leading French painter Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and brings late 19th and early 20th century France to life through paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative objects by Pierre Bonnard, shown alongside early cinema by the Lumière brothers, and artworks by Maurice Denis, Félix Vallotton and Édouard Vuillard, Bonnard’s early contemporaries.

Keep up to date with Melbourne’s latest art events, exhibitions and performances here.

Organised by the NGV in partnership with the Musée d’Orsay, the exhibition presents Bonnard’s works within a bold and captivating scenography from international design icon and award-winning architect, India Mahdavi who will employ her designs with Bonnard’s distinct use of colour and texture. 

Described by The New Yorker as a ‘virtuoso of colour’ and ‘possessor of perfect chromatic pitch’, and winner of Designer of the Year at the 2023 Wallpaper* Design Awards, Mahdavi envelops Pierre Bonnard’s works in an environment that complements Bonnard’s distinct use of colour and texture, and evokes the wistful domestic intimacy for which his paintings are renowned.

Mahdavi has appeared multiple times on the Architectural Digest list of the 100 most influential architects and designers. Her approach to colour, structure and texture has resulted in several acclaimed architectural projects, including collaborations with contemporary British artist David Shrigley and British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare for The Gallery at sketch in London. Mahdavi’s interest in the domestic interior has also resulted in ranges of furniture and design objects for the home.

“Monsieur Bonnard and I share the same passion for colour — the way he invites us in his home and intimacy is sublimated by his very own sense of colour — for this exhibition, we dived into Pierre Bonnard’s paintings and extracted some of his patterns and colours to recreate backdrops to his paintings, offering an immersive experience of a home to the visitor,” says India Mahdavi.

The exhibition features loans from the Musée d’Orsay, which holds the world’s largest collection of Bonnard’s work, along with significant loans from other museums and private collections in France as well as elsewhere in Europe, the UK, the USA and Australia. International lenders include Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Art Institute of Chicago.

These loans will be presented alongside important works from the NGV’s own collection, including Bonnard’s early masterpiece, La Sieste (Siesta), 1900, previously in the collection of Gertrude Stein and acquired by the NGV in 1949. The exhibition also features a work recently acquired by Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family for the NGV: an intimate domestic scene by Bonnard’s friend and contemporary in the Nabi circle, Édouard Vuillard. The exhibition will also feature and contextualise Vuillard’s painting of Bonnard’s wife,
Madame Bonnard and a dog, 1907, acquired by the NGV in 1955.

Tracing the Pierre Bonnard’s emerging artistic practice in the 1890s, the exhibition starts with the artist’s paintings and prints recording Parisian street life, which contain rich and often satirical observations of what Bonnard called the ‘theatre of the everyday’. The exhibition then follows the artist’s career in the first decades of the 20th century, when his perspective shifted to a more domestic vision of the life he shared with his life-companion, Marthe Bonnard.

The landscape became a primary subject for Bonnard from around 1910 onwards. Bonnard’s passion for the landscape was influenced by his friendship with the
painter Claude Monet, a near neighbour in the Normandy countryside until Monet’s death in 1926. For Bonnard, landscape painting was a hybrid genre and often included glimpses of interiors and still lifes.

Bonnard’s life shifted largely to the south of France from the 1920s onwards, leading to the preponderance of highly coloured, iridescent landscapes capturing
the light and life of the South. It is these last paintings for which Bonnard is most celebrated and the exhibition features iconic examples from international collections including MoMA, New York, Minneapolis Institute of Art and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi is on display from 9 June – 8 October 2023 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Tickets and information are available here