09 May 2020

Bonnard, and the possibility of tomorrow


This remarkable self-portrait was the last he made. Old, and having survived the second world war, and having lost his wife (and muse) Marthe, he is in the winter of of his life. 

I saw it in a show in New York years ago at MOMA and I was quite rattled by it, enough that I went back again to be rattled. I was still a young man at the time, and I marvelled at his ruthless and frank depiction of himself. I remember that his eyes looked like the discarded pits from an apricot. It is a haunting portrait, and reminiscent of a Rembrandt at the end of his own life. A painter just keeps refining his work like  all artists do if they survive long enough. Goya comes to mind, and Titian, who painted his last self portrait at the age of 80. And  Tolstoy comes to mind too, in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I read it when I was 18, and sadly, I didn't have the imagination in youth to understand it at the time.

In this time of haunting sorrow and great social unrest it is these creators who allow me to keep faith and hope in the possibility of tomorrow.

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