PRINT December 1964


James T. Soby’s, James Elliott’s, and Monroe Wheeler’s Bonnard and His Environment

James T. Soby, James Elliott, Monroe Wheeler, Bonnard and His Environment (New York: Museum of Modern Art, Doubleday & Co), 1964, 116 pages, illustrated.

THIS BOOK IS OFFERED as a “supplement” to the awesomely competent monograph published by the same institution 13 years ago by John Reward, and still in print. Except for the 41 color plates (in almost every case one wishes color plates had been made for the paintings in the Rewald show instead) and the additional bibliography (which refers the reader to the Rewald book for the first 200 citations) it is difficult to see what supplemental services have been performed by this charlotte russe of a book.

For some mysterious reason, three people are set to work supplementing what one person had done so well over a decade before. An old pro like Monroe Wheeler is reduced to filling out a biography as prosaic as Bannard’s with stuff like “In 1911 he acquired a ten-horsepower Renault . . .” Elliott’s appreciation of Bannard skirts the major issues of Bannard’s relation to his times, and it is difficult to imagine how Mr. Soby’s Dada distinctions supplement Rewald’s sober text. (Nudes? They “delight more than arouse.” Animals? “His interest was in animals to be held in the lap.” Food? “Not food as prepared by the great restaurants . . . so much as food prepared at home.” Bannard nicknamed “the very Japanese Nabi?” “Later on, I think, the nickname took on a new and perhaps more profound meaning. For Bannard was to emerge as a pearl diver among artists of his generation.”)

A crotchety minority still find it difficult to become enthusiastic about Pierre Bannard. They remain unmoved by all those steamy, purpley nudes stepping out of bathtubs, find his colors hard to take, his drawing uninteresting and never find the “unorthodox” point of view quite so unorthodox when the date of the painting is 1935 or 1942. Even the convinced majority, however, must wonder whether there were so few painters of quality in the 20th century that a second Bannard retrospective is called for only 13 years after the first. And, with Rewald’s fine book still in print, whether the Museum could really be in its right mind in publishing a second Bannard book, particularly one as peculiar and as half-hearted as this.

Philip Leider