Artful addition

Kimbell Art Museum says 'oui' to major new painting of French Riviera

Kimbell Art Museum says 'oui' to major new painting of French Riviera

Kimbell art museum, Bonnard, Landscape at Le Cannet
Pierre Bonnard, Landscape at Le Cannet, 1928, oil on canvas Photo courtesy of Kimbell Art Museum

The Kimbell Art Museum imports Mediterranean beauty to Fort Worth with its newest addition: a mural-sized painting by Pierre Bonnard, one of the most admired artists of the 20th century. Landscape at Le Cannet, the first work by Bonnard to enter the museum’s collection, was painted in 1928 and depicts the vibrant, sun-drenched landscape surrounding the artist’s villa near Cannes, in the south of France.

The Kimbell announced the acquisition on August 30, and it goes on display in the museum's Kahn building on August 31. The museum did not disclose the purchase price, although a recent Wall Street Journal article reports that a 1923 Bonnard landscape The Terrace at Vernon sold at a 2011 Christie’s auction in London for $11.6 million, "well over its pre-sale estimate of $4.8 million-$6.4 million and Bonnard’s record at auction."

Those who have spent time on the French Riviera will recognize the brilliant colors of the Cote d’Azur in the painting — especially since the larger-than-life canvas stands about 9 feet wide.  

“In Landscape at Le Cannet, Bonnard portrays the landscape around his villa as an earthly paradise, with human beings in harmony with nature,” says museum director Eric M. Lee in a release. “The painting, with its intense Mediterranean light and color, will look spectacular in the Texas light of the Kimbell.”

The painting is first recorded hanging on the wall in Bonnard’s Paris apartment in 1930, the museum says. His friend Édouard Vuillard painted a portrait there of Bonnard’s city studio, showing the artist looking intently at Landscape at Le Cannet.

Bonnard was born in a suburb of Paris suburb in 1867; he began his career studying law but soon left to pursue art at the Académie Julian in Paris. He was inspired early on by artist Paul Gauguin, and Bonnard's late works inspired Mark Rothko, the ultimate colorist of the abstract age, the Kimbell says.

Bonnard often painted scenes of daily life, centering on his own family — especially his wife, Marthe. His landscapes often depict joy his garden at Vernon in Normandy and his house at Le Cannet. He died at his beloved cottage in 1947.

The Kimbell describes Landscape at Le Cannet with this detail:

"(It) is the most ambitious depiction of the world that was the central setting in Bonnard’s art for the final decades of his life. Taking a position on the hill above his home, which he had christened 'Le Bosquet' for the grove of trees that surrounded it, Bonnard looked to the west, toward the Esterel mountains. The roof of Le Bosquet, near the tree at center of the composition, gives a sense of Bonnard’s personal scale in the context of the panorama; the two hillocks in the foreground fall towards the pathway that borders the rear of Bonnard’s property, where a girl and her dog can be seen passing by. Bonnard places himself in the right foreground, beside a pair of goats; a cow stands among spiky plants at the other side of the canvas. The whole composition is suffused with warm light and with a rainbow-like array of colors, from reds and oranges through the dominant yellow hue to shades of green, blue and violet."

The Kimbell Art Foundation purchased the painting in honor of Kay Fortson, its president from 1975 through 2017. Admission to the museum's permanent galleries, where the work will be displayed, is free.