A small flock of `blackbirds'

Not all works of art hanging on the walls of great museums were carefully planned and painted. Most of them were, but sometimes we will find a picture that we can see the artist did very quickly. We feel he must have wanted to set down a scene that he liked very much on whatever material he had at hand. Perhaps Pierre Bonnard was looking out his studio window when he saw these six children with an adult hurrying homeward from school. Maybe he thought they looked like a small flock of blackbirds on their thin legs, their winter jackets and book bags flapping out to the sides like wings.

We can imagine him grabbing the nearest piece of pinkish-brown cardboard and quickly sketching in the figures with the black brush he had in his hand. With medium gray he indicated the faces of the children as well as the woman's hat with a veil. The third child from the right has a large triangle of pink over its shoulders - the brightest color in the picture.

Most of the background is left unpainted cardboard except for the white posters on the wall. Faintly sketched lines indicate blocks in the wall. Underneath the posters and extending to the right edge, a line of brushstrokes in light blue helps to give a forward direction to the motion of the birdlike children.

The doorway is a stripe of brown and a stripe of black. Dabs of brownish and pinkish tones on the ground and up the doorway give depth to the scene and repeat the lively movements of the figures.

The artist must have felt quite satisfied with his quick-painted scene, because he signed his name quite large - Bonnard - in yellow underneath the first child on the right.

The painting is very much like the Impressionists work even though Bonnard was still studying law when the last Impressionist group exhibit was held in 1886. When he failed in his oral law examination, Bonnard took a job in government and went to art schools. He soon sold a poster and determined to become a painter.

He joined a group who admired Gauguin and C'ezanne. In fact he is included in a large canvas by another painter, Maurice Denis, showing several young artists clustered admiringly in front of a still life painting by C'ezanne, one that Gaugin once owned. About that time Bonnard painted in a flat, decorative style. But later he returned to a more Impressionist way of painting and used bright colors.

Many of his early paintings show the same playful sense of fun that this picture has. An art critic called him ``a painter of happiness.'' He loved colors, and even these blackbird/children, so happily flitting away from school, are not drab in their dark clothing, but somehow, in their liveliness, they make the soft tone of the cardboard background sparkle and glow.

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