09 September 2020

Chrysalis and the Bonnard sketch

It is a very interesting thing for a painter to see a master's drawing alongside the finished oil painting of the same motif. In this case it is a view from his small property on the Côte d'Azur. The drawing, done with a small lead pencil, seems to dance around in between various objects; trees, bushes, clouds, houses, sky, with tiny abbreviated lines indicating the sea in the distance. There is no doubt that he made many small sketches of this motif.

I have seen this painting a few times over the years and always loved it.  It is part of the Philips Collection at the National Gallery in Washington. But seeing it here next to a drawing of the same motif allows me to indulge in the image of the caterpillar undergoing a chrysalis when it transforms into a butterfly. All the information is already stored in the caterpillar cells for the new butterfly to form, and be re-born to a life of colourful flight. 

This mystery of creation is everywhere yet many of us often forget that fact though scientists and artists almost never do.

Bonnard, a kind caterpillar himself, shy and unassuming; he might have looked as if he lived an ordinary life if perhaps described by an ordinary person with indeed an ordinary life. But though he did live a life of a monk in a simple house with a partner and small dog, we know that he painted the dreams of butterflies. 


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