A 'French chef' among painters
New York — Great French painters are often brothers in spirit to great French chefs. Both are concerned with raising pleasure to a fine art while also providing nourishment and satisfaction.
They do this by knowing precisely what the ingredients of their respective arts can do, and by applying the kind of imaginative flair that permits them to invent delightful new variants with those qualities.
Pierre Bonnard was this century's consummate French painter of this sort, the one who, above all others, created succulent feasts for the eyes and elegant banquets for the sensibilities. He made it clear that, for him, art existed to give pleasure of the most exquisite and sophisticated kind.
A goodly selection (56, to be precise) of Bonnard's pictorial banquets, feasts, flavorful meals, and quick little snacks are on view here at Wildenstein & Co. These range in time from the 1891 ''Women With Dog'' to the 1944-45 ''Self-Portrait of the Artist in a Red Dressing-Gown,'' in size and complexity from small, direct on-the-spot studies to very large studio compositions.
Every one of these paintings is delectable - and a few are major 20th-century works of art. Above all, however, each is a remarkable demonstration of the miracles a modern painterly sensibility can perform with paint and color. Especially one who learned his craft directly from the Impressionists and Post-impressionists - and who continued to push his art in daring and innovative directions until very shortly before his death in 1947.
There just simply aren't many recent paintings around that are as sumptuous as his ''La Femme au Mimosa,'' ''Head of a Woman Against the Light,'' ''The Plate of Cherries,'' ''The Toilette,'' or ''The Regatta.'' Nor will we find many as richly and imaginatively patterned as ''Woman With a Parrot,'' ''Nude Standing at a Window,'' or ''Woman Seated in a Library Looking at a Journal.''
It all adds up to a superb exhibition, and an object lesson to all who think that painterly pleasure is of necessity trivial and superficial. The art of Bonnard will be around a long time after much of what passes for art today in more solemn and self-serious quarters is long forgotten.
It's at Wildenstein & Co. through Dec. 11.
Everyone knows that Rembrandt was a great painter, and almost everyone knows he was a great etcher. But not many have seen his etchings at their best: in good impressions pulled either by Rembrandt himself or by someone else during his lifetime.
What most viewers have seen have been posthumous restrikes, impressions pulled decades or centuries after Rembrandt's death from plates that had gradually worn down, and whose lines, as a result, were faint, broken, or invisible. In addition, the rich blacks so carefully built up by the artist had deteriorated in these later impressions into splotchy areas of dirty grays. And the subtle drypoint effects had disappeared entirely.
Any exhibition, therefore, of Rembrandt etchings whose quality and condition indicate they were printed by Rembrandt, or at least were printed during his lifetime, becomes an event of considerable importance. And if such an event takes place in a commercial gallery rather than in a museum, it is news indeed.
As a matter of fact, Theodore B. Donson, in whose New York gallery this exhibition is taking place, states that it ''represents the largest and most comprehensive gathering of Rembrandt etchings of high quality ever offered for private purchase at one time.''
I cannot personally verify that statement, but I can state that this is a breathtaking assemblage of Rembrandt prints. It includes at least eight of the greatest prints ever made, and more than two dozen others that would have established Rembrandt as an important artist even if he had done nothing else.
I have never seen better impressions of ''Christ Preaching,'' ''The Descent From the Cross by Torchlight,'' ''Self-Portrait in a Velvet Cap With Plume,'' ''Girl With Basket,'' ''The Omval,'' ''Cottage Beside a Canal,'' or ''The Return of the Prodigal Son.'' Even some of the problematical prints built up by heavy crosshatching come across clearly and crisply. I had never before known, for instance, how sensitive and subtle a print ''Jan Cornelis Sylvius, Preacher'' was until I saw the impression of it in this show.
Of additional interest is the inclusion of Rembrandt's reworking of Hercules Seghers's print ''Tobias and the Angel.'' Rembrandt purchased Seghers's copperplate of that etching, burnished out the other artist's slightly awkward figures, and then substituted his own figures of the Holy Family to create his version of ''The Flight Into Egypt.'' It's an interesting fusion of the work of two of the master etchers of the 17th century.
This first-rate exhibition will remain on view at Theodore B. Donson Ltd. through Dec. 31.