PIERRE BONNARD’S GUIDE TO THE BELLE EPOQUE STREETS OF PARIS

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La Petite Blanchiseusse       Plate 42

Paris, an amazing repository of the height of sensuous excellence, tends thereby to send us to the firmament. But artist/graphic designer, Pierre Bonnard, in the portfolio titled, Bonnard Lithographe, prefers the streets to the sunsets—leading to an upshot, as I hope you’ll see, of mundane moments plunging to depths you could explore for a lifetime.

Our first glimpse is called “The Little Laundress.” Were we to go with the literal title, we’d suppose that the figure in question (seen from behind) is a youthful sprite. A close look, however, shows quite the contrary. She’s “little,” largely due to ageing and the hardness of a widow’s life (nothing chic about the blackness of her wardrobe) reduced to the bent-over exertions of restoring a freshness (to fabrics) which she will never know again. Or will she? Though she braces herself with her umbrella as she negotiates the cobble stones of a quiet side-street in the metropolis, en route to her client’s door with the perfectly laundered whites, her attitude is jaunty and her attentions go out to a little mongrel (passing by without looking her way) with whom she commiserates.  

 

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Coin de Rue     Plate 58

This busy street corner does not invite solitary currents of sensibility. Workers and shoppers bend to their own jangled visions (thinned out, as captured by the lithographic haze). A dog gets attention from a little girl (a real sprite this time) and yelps with joy. The City shows thereby its being spun to the tune of a teeming labyrinth of hidden goods.

 

 

 

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Maison dans la Cour     Plate 59

The City as a range of lovingly crafted stone and wood, emitting havens for those at home with multiplicity and yet secretly under a spell of solitude. Bonnard’s mastery of the lithographic medium results in quite amazing evocations of Parisian textures on the basis of composition and color.

 

 

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Rue Vue d’en Haut      Plate 60

Deploying the vantage point of a tall building, this work diminishes personal sagas the better to remind one that Paris is a geographic construct within which its expressive inhabitants are touched (whether consciously or not) by vast physical challenges and inspirations. With the striking cloud formation coming into its own, the streetscape veers toward being a river gorge.

 

 

 

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Boulevard     Plate 61

A solid bourgeois quartier just before the trees begin to show greenery. The device of foreground incident in shade provides a stream of locked-in personal preoccupation against which the pop of the roadway and retail wall suggests the dimension of robust well-being beckoning to urbane fixtures of this, at the time, the most urban spot on the planet.

 

 

 

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Le Pont des Art      Plate 64

Here the concern is to evoke the sense of eerie spaciousness to be derived from river bridge prospects. The density of machinery and citizens bearing down upon the flimsy-looking landmark evokes the always edgy brush with catastrophe a down town brings to mind. The somewhat long-range eventuation hanging over a rather bilious void provides a rich contrast with the more substantial shoppers scurrying along the sidewalk at right. Paris as a kaleidoscope of intensely prepared intentions.

 

 

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Rue la Soir Sous la Pluie     Plate 66

Another big-scale dynamic track set against rather intimate pedestrian meandering. Here the elements of night-time  darkness and a rainstorm up the ante of urban rigors and thrills.

 

 

 

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L’Arc de Triomphe      Plate 67

The district of the Arc de Triomphe—here perhaps early one winter morning— long before the commercial towers of La Defense, allows one to recall days in the countryside. Particularly at the era coming to us here, Paris was still redolent of a vast and sustaining rural association.

 

 

 

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Coin de Rue Vue d’en Haut     Plate 68

1890’s Paris in spades in this what could be the artist/ designer’s homage to his home city for its always surprising variety and fastidious care for the sensual amenities that fortify one in face of a presence of urbanity having reached a point of no return.

 

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