I first discovered the artist Pierre Bonnard in Paris, in a corner room on the top floor of the Musee D’Orsay. It might have only been the inner cat person in me, clawing to get out (several of Bonnard’s more famous paintings feature felines), but I must’ve spent an hour or two alone looking at the handful of his works in that museum absolutely brimming with many of the greatest works in art history.
A few months after my visit, I was talking to a friend about Bonnard, and she told me a story about him that I’ve never forgotten, and still think about often. A quick Google search turned up no evidence of this story being true, so perhaps it is apocryphal. But even if it is fictional, the story is worth sharing.
It goes like this:
Bonnard kept a diary. He wrote it in every day, though not always lengthily – he was busy, after all, sketching and painting and sculpting. However, at the very least, each morning Bonnard wrote a brief note about the day’s weather. He made this note in the upper corner of the day’s page, and over the years developed a personal system for taking account of the sky and the temperature and the humidity and the precipitation (if there were any). The system was simple, yet profound. A given day could only be classified as one of three things: bon, très bon, or très très bon.
I remind myself of this on days like today, when the sky is gray and heavy and you can sense the rain approaching, can feel it in your bones. It’s a story worth tucking away and taking out on the next gloomy day, or even the next beautiful day. Bonnard’s system expressed a healthy, sunny wonder about the world around him and the rich variety of sensory experiences it offered, as well as a deep appreciation for that ever-changing painting that hangs above us every day.