Pierre Bonnard’s work may resemble that of the impressionists; however, he painted from memory rather than from life, which accounts for the dreamlike quality of his pictures. Bonnard’s quiet and private life is mirrored in his work as evidenced in his studies of the domestic interior and its psychological charge. In many of his interiors, a sense of longing is concentrated in open windows and the world beyond. In The Open Window, ravishing color and shimmering, pearly light transfigure a room in the artist’s house in Normandy. Bonnard shows very little of the room. The focal point of the painting is the void at its center, the blue sky, green foliage, and violet shadow outside, framed invitingly by the window casing, walls, and a dark, guillotine-like slice of window blind.
The contrast between the exterior blues and greens and the interior red oranges is so dazzling that it takes a moment before a black cat and a woman become visible at the lower right corner of the canvas. In Bonnard’s paintings, dogs and cats are essential threads in the weave of human life. They insinuate themselves into his paintings, almost indecipherable calligraphic marks, peripheral presences. A recurrent human figure is his wife, Marthe de Meligny. Marthe, whose real name was Maria Boursin, became his mistress in 1893 and was his wife from 1925 until her death in 1942. Their relationship was complicated by Bonnard’s infidelity. The blond woman in The Open Window may be Renée Monchaty, with whom he fell in love around 1917 and who committed suicide in 1923, when Bonnard left her to return to Marthe.