Tate recommends ‘slow looking’ at major Pierre Bonnard exhibition

London gallery tells visitors how best to enjoy 2019 show devoted to French painter

Tate Modern is planning “slow looking” sessions for an exhibition of paintings by an artist curators believe is best enjoyed if visitors take their time.

The gallery on Monday announced details of one of its 2019 shows, the first major UK exhibition for 20 years devoted to the works of the French artist Pierre Bonnard.

Pierre Bonnard and dog.
Pierre Bonnard. Tate Modern will trace four decades of the French painter and printmaker’s work. Photograph: Tate Modern

“His paintings really reward very close and extended scrutiny,” said Matthew Gale, the head of displays at Tate Modern and curator of the Bonnard show. “Something that perhaps is more of a challenge for us in this day and age but it is something that will be encouraged in this exhibition.”

Persuading museum-goers to spend more time looking at a painting would be no easy task, Gale said. “Obviously one can’t force people to look slowly but one can encourage it.”

Precise details of how the slow looking sessions would work have still to be hammered out but Gale said it might be a ticketed event with groups of people and a curator looking closely at only two or three works, allowing people to see things not immediately apparent.

For example, with Bonnard’s The Studio with Mimosa 1939-46, being loaned by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, it often takes some time for observers to notice the figure in the left-hand corner.

Frances Morris, the director of Tate Modern, also plans to introduce bigger labels for the show so people will not have to crane in to see the title and lender.

“It is the biggest complaint we have from members of the public, that they cannot read the labels,” she said. “It disrupts the looking. To show Bonnard in this closely attentive way will be a revelation.”

Nu dans le Bain (1936).
Nu dans le Bain (1936). Photograph: Tate Modern

There will be about 100 works in the exhibition that will focus on his intense colours, which, the show will argue, transformed painting in the first half of the 20th century.

Curators said the show would trace four decades of the artist’s work, from the emergence of his distinctive style in 1912 to his death in 1947, and it would highlight less well-known aspects of his career.

For instance, two rarely seen works showing Bonnard’s response to life during the first world war will go on display together in the UK for the first time since they were painted. A Village in Ruins near Ham (1917) shows desolation and misery while The Fourteenth of July (1918) shows national celebration.

Gale said Bonnard was a “notoriously shy” man who was widely perceived as a solitary figure. “One of our aspirations of our project is to somewhat insert him back into history, to see how he responded to the circumstances around him.”

Armistice (1918).
Armistice (1918). Photograph: Tate Modern

Musuems and private collections around the world will loan important Bonnard works such as Dining Room in the Country (1913), coming from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and The Violet Fence (1923), from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

After Tate Modern the exhibition will travel to Copenhagen and Vienna.

• Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory will be at Tate Modern from 23 January until 6 May 2019.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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