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Stunning Graphic Images

New show offers a well-timed reminder of Bonnard's daring, sophisticated art

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CONTRARY to expectations, the 1989-90 New York art season is turning out to be one of the best on record. Not only is there a truly great Velazquez exhibition, there are outstanding shows of work by Picasso, Braque, Canaletto, Calder, Benton, and Grandma Moses. And now, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has done it again, this time with a beautiful and impressive survey of Pierre Bonnard's prints.

``Pierre Bonnard: The Graphic Art'' is a well-timed reminder of his premier status as a printmaker and a welcome reaffirmation of his quality and importance as a draftsman and colorist. Its 125 prints, drawings, illustrated books, and paintings survey his production from 1890 to 1930, with a special emphasis on the formative first decade of his career.

The show includes affectionate and humorous scenes of family gatherings, depictions of modern Paris life, studies of nudes, and landscapes of the Ile de France and the C^ote d'Azur. Six of his illustrated books are also included as well as numerous studies and sketches of children and animals.

In all, it is as choice a selection of one artist's prints as we've seen since the Museum of Modern Art's superb exhibition of Lautrec's graphic production in 1985. For that, we have Colta Ives, curator-in-charge of the Metropolitan's Department of Prints and Photographs, to thank. The exhibition, which took three years to organize, consists of works drawn from 36 public and private collections in Europe and America, but it depends primarily on the Metropolitan's own extensive holdings of Bonnard's etchings, lithographs, and related works.

Bonnard was born near Paris in 1867. His earliest training was in law, which he dropped, however, in the late 1880s for classes in art at the Acad'emie Julian. While there, he met painters Denis, Vuillard, and S'erusier, and with them founded the Nabis, a group of artists with common interests in decoration, Gauguin's paintings, and Japanese prints.

During the 1890s, Bonnard was busy with designs for posters, prints, and book illustrations, as well as for stained glass, decorative panels, and furniture. Between 1889 and 1902 he produced over 250 lithographs, most of which were designed to announce, advertise, ornament, or illustrate publications.

It is to these lithographs that this exhibition pays particular attention. They dominate the show - either in their final form as daringly designed and richly colored prints, or as studies executed in preparation for translation onto the lithographic stone.

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