“Paris Boulevard at Night” places us in the artist’s flat in Northern Paris looking out onto a quietly busy evening. Courtesy Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Viewers bring their own preconceptions to visual art even as the creators have their own fully formed ideas and messages in mind. Bridging the gap between the observer and objet, the Kimbell Art Museum’s Bonnard’s Worlds features 70 paintings by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) which allow the French impressionist to become the guide into his home and personal life. The guy is supremely pleasant to have around.

“Paris Boulevard at Night” is told from the interior of Bonnard’s flat in Northern Paris looking out onto the working-class neighborhood below. In the darkness, people pass along a greenspace near the center encircled by buildings. Plentiful blues and greens underline the relaxing mood.

Nearby, “The Riviera” is striking for several reasons, especially its colors. Light green and blue dominate the rural landscape awash in lush vegetation fading elegantly into distant hills. As with a lot of Bonnard’s paintings, his choice of color is as equally thematic as the content. “The Riviera” has all the elements of a warm, sunny day, but the overall effect — due to the colors — is surprisingly cool, perhaps hinting at the pleasure the Frenchman took from the vantage point he frequented.


Following the exhibit clockwise, the pieces travel into Bonnard’s home and those he visited. “The Bowl of Milk” revolves around a young girl standing to the right. Her eyes are closed as she holds a golden plate in her left hand. At her feet, a black cat walks toward her. The most eye-catching part of the domestic scene is the bright sunlight beaming through the window to the left, illuminating a table beneath the window in radiant golden yellow. The artist undoubtedly found sublime beauty in each passing moment.

With each successive piece, the viewer’s perspective becomes more entangled with the artist’s. Near the final portion of the exhibit, “Dachshund on a Chair” compels our gaze downward at a seated wiener dog. The steep angle puts us right in Bonnard’s shoes.

In the last segment of Bonnard’s Worlds, we meet the artist’s wife and even Pierre himself. The capacious oil painting “The Siesta” finds Marthe Bonnard resting on her stomach across the couple’s bed. She is nude with her rear prominently centered. Were someone to stumble onto her like this in real life, they would apologetically retreat. Here, the painter welcomes them.

And near the exit is a parting message from Bonnard — not only can we see him at age 60 in “Portrait of the Artist in the Dressing Room Mirror,” but we can inhabit his POV as he stares at his reflection. Pale, bald, and skinny, he is just himself, seeming to invite us to share a moment with him. The late work argues that all observers — including artists — bring their own views and lived experiences to renderings of observed environments.

It is clear from the works spanning 50 years that Bonnard wanted to do more than reflect his world. He wanted to share it, and this show that’s up for one more week dutifully conveys his wishes.


Bonnard’s Worlds
Thru Sun, Jan 28, at the Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. $14-18.