That is the word that rose to the top of the great green greasy Limpopo as I chewed my salad and looked out the window into the rain on — 22nd Street — and thought about what I saw at the Bonnard show.

1. The Open Window is one, if the word means what I think it means. and for the first time in forty years of looking at it I realized that it is Africa that is outside the window: what I saw looking out the window in Africa: the abundance, incredible polymorphous capacity of matter to body itself forth into a million different leaves, forming trees, forming jungles, forming a vast shape against the sky, as rain moves in a gray line implacably toward me every day at 2 o’clock on the dot. The great cat lifts its paw and puts it down as Virginia Woolf says; but this implies malice and caprice. Nature is completely powerful and affectless — one dissolves in it, as Bonnard and not Picasso knew.

The Open Window, Pierre Bonnard, 1921.

Bonnard is the anti-Picasso.

He says, “…that which begins from nothing, that which does not mean anything, a picture just for the sake of a picture, appears to me as a monstrosity….Art will never be able to do without nature. When one forgets everything, all that remains is oneself and that is not enough.”

Picasso: cubism: Guernica: mind-fucking, pinning to the center of the canvas the helpless object for dissection. His horizon will always be beneath him.

2. Her belly button is two, in the great epochal Nude in the Bath and Small Dog. Which didn’t make me cry this time. It only made my chest ache and I had to sit down.

Nude in the Bath With a Small Dog, Pierre Bonnard, 1941-6.

But the Blossoming Almond Tree, which he saw out the window from his death bed, did bring out the specially prepared handkerchief. Van Gogh’s blossoming almond branch, painted at a very low point, in honor of the birth of his nephew. Manet’s last death-bed bouquet painting of his favorite white lilacs. Tooth glass. Perfectly refracting, and blazing out against the oncoming darkness. The burning bush.

3. His eyes in the 1945 self portrait are three and four.

Sel-portrait, Pierre Bonnard, 1945.

This may be one of the most accurate portraits of a human face I’ve ever seen. Yet it is almost featureless.

On his deathbed, he told his nephew, draw more.

Yes, maitre.

Originally blogged January 3, 2003, in Washington, D.C., after the Bonnard show at the Phillips. This post is central to what I think.