Like Gauguin and most of the Nabis, Bonnard felt an attraction for Japanese prints, especially after the Japanese exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1890. In that same year he moved in to a studio shared with Vuillard and Denis.
Beginning in 1891 Bonnard exhibited with the Nabis group and drew his first poster, France-Champagne and executed his first three lithographs for La Revue Blanche. His friendship with the editor of this magazine, Thadée Natanson, and his beautiful wife, Missia, was to last many years. His association with La Revue Blanche from 1891 to 1903 gave him a chance to meet a greta many contributors, among them Verlaine, Mallarmé, Octave Mirbeau, André Gide. Natanson took an interest in all facects of modern art but his taste leaned to Lautrec, Bonnard, Vuillard and Vallotton, all of whom he asked to do illustrations for his review. In his book Le Bonnard que je propose, he wrote how Bonnard read and reread Mallarmé and how the Nabis came to the Natanson country home at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne and used to meet with Mirbeau, Toulouse-Lautrec, Coolus and many others, enjoying the countryside of Yonne and the engaging conversation.
In 1894 Bonnard designed his most poster, La Revue Blanche, described by André Fermigier in his book on Bonnard “… a masterpiece of Parisian elegance and poetry, but of a Paris quite unlike that evoked by France-Champagne. It is less bright, less luminous, all gray, chilly, and reserved – the color of high walls and winter. In it, the gesture of the impertinent gamin is still drawn in a somewhat ‘ultra-Japanese’ fashion, in contrast to the appealing melancholy in the eyes of the young women enveloped in her huge cape – certainly the strangest ‘sell’ ever devised for any publication, even an avant-garde review.”
Bonnard ‘s interest and taste for decoration was also applied to theatre sets. With Sérusier he designed the sets of Alfred Jary’s Ubu roi at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre. In 1896 and 1897 Bonnard collaborated with Vollard, contributing color lithographs for his Album Des Peintres-Graveurs.
In 1899 Vollard published a series of twelve color lithographs of Bonnard: Quelques Aspects de la vie de Paris and exhibited them in his gallery. These lithographs with those by Vuillard, Paysage et Intérieurs, and the Denis suite of Armour are among the most beautiful color lithographs done in Paris in the 1890’s. Of Bonnard’s Nabi period Gustave Geffroy wrote: “No one better captures the look of the street, the colored patch seen through the Parisian mist, the passing silhouettes, a young girl’s frail grace. A searching hand moving with simian pliancy seizes the passing gesture, the evanescent faces of the street, born and vanished on the instant. It is the poetry of life that is gone, a rememberance of things, of animals, of human beings.”
In 1900 Bonnard exhibited with the Nabis at Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. Alexandre Bernheim was one of the most active dealers in Paris and in 1899 his daughter, Gabrielle, married Félix Vallotton. It was through Vallotton that the Nabis came to Bernheim’s gallery. Bonnard, after a one man show there in 1906, remained with the gallery all his life.
Bonnard’s admiration of the impressionists slowly made him withdraw from the Nabis philosophy. The influence of the Fauves, his ‘intimate’style, his vivid colors, an increased sensuousness and freedom made clear the path he was to follow to the end of his life.
In 1925 he settled in Le Cannet where in 1944 he retired permanently until his death.
Fontenay-aux-Roses, October 3rd 1867 - Le Cannet, January 23rd 1943