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Bonnard’s Experience of Twilight

September 7, 2011

See Karen’s previous post on Kandinsky and twilight here.

Pierre Bonnard is another artist in the collection who loved twilight, which he called l’heure bleue. Like Kandinsky, his work approached abstraction but did not let go of the visible world.

Bonnard’s sensitivity to the ways in which colors changed throughout the day was manifest in a letter to Matisse, in which he wrote about Matisse’s painting L’Asie (Asia), which the artist had lent him, “the red there is wonderful late in the afternoon. By day it is the blue that takes the lead. What an intense life the colors have, and how they vary with the light.”

Pierre Bonnard, The Palm, 1926, Oil on canvas; 45 x 57 7/8 in.; 114.3 x 147.0025 cm.. Acquired 1928.

The Palm and Twilight: Purkinje shift

Under conditions of reduced light, the violet figure in The Palm (above) has a spectral appearance and seems to come forward in the space. As light fades, vision shifts from the foveal cones, which are responsive to long wave yellows and reds that compose the daylight, to the peripheral rods. In twilight, short wave colors like mauve and blue increase in brightness and visibility relative to long wave colors. This phenomenon is called the Purkinje shift.

-Karen Schneider, Librarian

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