On Sunday 23 July, 47 members and guests gathered at the National Gallery of Victoria to attend 2023’s MELBOURNE WINTER MASTERPIECES EXHIBITION featuring more than 100 works by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), celebrated for his iridescent palette depicting intimate domestic interiors, natural landscapes and urban scenes. Renowned for his use of colour to convey emotions- such a contrast to this grey winter morning- Bonnard certainly brightened our day and mood as we journeyed from his earlier works recording Parisian street life, publicity posters, puppets and the infamous theatrical production, Ubu Roi, to the warmth of Le Cannet in the south of France when his perspective shifted to a more domestic vision of the life he shared with his life-companion, Marthe Bonnard.

 Curated by Paris’s Musée d’Orsay in partnership with the NGV, the exhibition 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 works by some of his contemporaries, Maurice Denis, Félix Vallotton and Édouard Vuillard and later on his landscapes influenced by his friendship with Claude Monet.

Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator of International Art , (and resident Bonnard trivia expert!*), gave a most insightful and informative lecture in French accompanied by appropriate slides, many of these forming part of the exhibition- It was like meeting old friends when we entered the exhibition as Ted’s slides had prepared us well for many of Bonnard’s earlier works.

Prior to our entry the participants had the opportunity to first eat, drink, network with colleagues and chat with friends prior to visiting the exhibition; the caterers served us well with individual lunch bags to enjoy in the Great Hall.

Paris-based architect and designer India Mahdavi, a ‘virtuoso of colour’ and winner of Designer of the Year at the 2023 Wallpaper Design Awards, showcases Pierre Bonnard’s works in an innovative environment that complements his use of colour and texture to  create a feeling of domesticity. Eventually reaching Le Cannet we entered Bonnard’s private life and landscapes in the bright colours reflected in the wallpapers reproduced by Mahdavi. Amongst our group there were mixed reactions to India’s scenography- some found it a bit overwhelming, whereas others loved the wallpapers, checking the paintings to find some of the reproductions as well as the touches of daily life with many pets, table settings, with apt furniture and carpets to reinforce this domestic atmosphere.

*A fun Australian connection: a wattle tree depicted in the garden at Le Bosquet is said to be grown from wattle seeds coming from Australia via Josephine Bonaparte’s eclectic collection of fauna and flora at Malmaison after Baudin’s voyage of discovery around 1801-3.

It is hoped that Bonnard’s name becomes more well known in Australia as a result of this exhibition- for our group it was certainly worth every aspect of the visit- well organized, well catered, well timed and well supported. We look forward to another French Exhibition where the AFTV will once again enjoy the hospitality and generosity of spirit that supports our involvement in French at the NGV

A very successful event with much learned and enjoyed. Vaut la peine d’y aller

Gretchen Bennett and the Cutural/PL team



A heads up for 2024? The film Bonnard, Pierre et Marthe directed by Martin Provost starring Cécile de France and Vincent Macaigne screened at this year’s Cannes Festival so it may reach Australia for next year’s AFFF- another AFTV event?? On verra!