In Pierre Bonnard’s The Open Window
the artist looks outward from his modest
living room. It is summer, the heat
baking the orange on the grill-like wall.
To the right, a woman is resting in a chair,
escaping as she can the sizzling
midday air in which even her quizzical
black cat blurs in the irradiance of light.
Above her head: an open window
dotted with abstract fantails, beyond which
cool greens and cooler blues appear to beckon,
and where a dark cross winks in the shimmering sky.
An old man stands before an image
of the painting, gift of his grandson,
and which seems to whisper from across
the room where the old man will spend his final days.
Are those vines covering the frame
of some ruined house, he asks himself,
or tree limbs damasked against the sky?
And is what he stares at merely paint,
abstract form dissolving once more into
formlessness? Or is his eye transfixed
by a wheel of light swirling with all of love’s
abandon about the resting woman, singing
something he alone can hear, a song
cut short by the shade that frames the window?
Still, there they are, beyond the fevered heat: those
beckoning greens, those cool and lucent blues.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.