Pierre Bonnard and India Mahdavi: An old master meets a contemporary French designer


Perhaps you know Pierre Bonnard for his vivid, emotive displays of landscapes and interior settings, luminous with colour. Or his women walking with parasols, cast within an Impressionistic, refined haze. Maybe it’s the intimate portraits of Marthe, his wife and muse. This winter the National Gallery of Victoria will host such images with Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi.

Bonnard (1867-1947) was a leading French painter, illustrator and printmaker, and founding member of the post-impressionist group ‘Les Nabis’. Celebrated for his use of colour to convey emotion, he captured landscapes, urban sites, portraits and intimate domestic scenes.

Interestingly, Bonnard did not want his works to be presented in a white cube environment. Miranda Wallace, a senior curator at NGV, elaborates: “He was committed to the integration of art into everyday life, and intended his works to hang in refined yet personal domestic spaces.”

To honour this, around 100 of Bonnard’s paintings will sit within scenography (the French term for exhibition design) created by India Mahdavi, a renowned Iranian-French architect and designer. Mahdavi was commissioned to cocoon Bonnard’s works in distinctive wallpapers, carpets and furniture. The scenography is integral, showcasing Mahdavi’s renowned use of colour, structure, and texture, and placing Bonnard’s work in conversation with a contemporary creator.

For Wallace the affinities between Bonnard and Mahdavi are many: “They are both extraordinary colourists. They share an interest in the domestic sphere; both have meditated on and dealt with the idea of ‘home’.” While the distinctive display draws out the immersive and decorative aspect of Bonnard’s paintings, central to the pairing is a sense of pace. As Wallace explains, “Bonnard’s works reveal themselves to you over time. Details initially obscured by a busy dining table or camouflaged amid the artist’s overgrown garden emerge gradually, and often unexpectedly.”

Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi
National Gallery of Victoria
9 June—8 October

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Erin Mathews