Pierre Bonnard’s work may resemble that of the impressionists; however, he painted from memory rather than from life, which accounts for the dreamlike quality of his pictures. Bonnard’s quiet and private life is mirrored in his work as evidenced in his studies of the domestic interior and its psychological charge. In many of his interiors, a sense of longing is concentrated in open windows and the world beyond. In The Open Window, ravishing color and shimmering, pearly light transfigure a room in the artist’s house in Normandy. Bonnard shows very little of the room. The focal point of the painting is the void at its center, the blue sky, green foliage, and violet shadow outside, framed invitingly by the window casing, walls, and a dark, guillotine-like slice of window blind.
The contrast between the exterior blues and greens and the interior red oranges is so dazzling that it takes a moment before a black cat and a woman become visible at the lower right corner of the canvas. In Bonnard’s paintings, dogs and cats are essential threads in the weave of human life. They insinuate themselves into his paintings, almost indecipherable calligraphic marks, peripheral presences. A recurrent human figure is his wife, Marthe de Meligny. Marthe, whose real name was Maria Boursin, became his mistress in 1893 and was his wife from 1925 until her death in 1942. Their relationship was complicated by Bonnard’s infidelity. The blond woman in The Open Window may be Renee Monchaty, with whom he fell in love around 1917 and who committed suicide in 1923, when Bonnard left her to return to Marthe.
Created in 1921, the work was inspired by the view from the sitting room of “Ma Roulotte”, the painter’s house at Vernonnet, in the Seine Valley. The mood of the summer afternoon siesta, languorous and indolent, is dreamily evoked. Bonnard uses his palette almost as if it were a narcotic substance, saturating his canvas with hues of orange, blue, indigo and violet that seem to pulse and vibrate on the retina. A becalmed room and the view to a radiant outdoors have been reformed as a tapestry of color.
Familiar objects are recognizable, but transfigured. An expanse of striped wallpaper shifts and moves like a colored mist; a patch of sunlit foliage catches fire. Color has been set free by the artist from straightforward description, heightened and intensified. Yet the result seems neither exaggerated, nor abstracted from reality, but all the more true to life. This is the kind of summer’s day when the sun’s warmth seems to irradiate everything, even the world of indoors, with its steady glow....