Dezeen Magazine

India Mahdavi creates colourful scenography for Pierre Bonnard exhibition in Melbourne

Iranian-French architect India Mahdavi has designed an exhibition to present works by French painter Pierre Bonnard at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi presents more than 100 works by the famed 20th-century artist who is celebrated for applying an iridescent palette.

Red wall with white spots frames a painting through an opening
India Mahdavi has offered her take on Pierre Bonnard's paintings through the exhibition scenography

The scenography design by Mahdavi, also known for her use of colour, is intended to create "an impression of his world, through my own eyes" according to the architect.

Instead of typical white gallery walls, the spaces are awash with bold hues and patterns that she has chosen to complement the artworks.

Two gallery spaces: one with yellow walls and the other pink
The architect chose colors and patterns to complement the artworks

Many of the shades of yellow, pink, orange and green that adorn the walls and floors are lifted directly from the canvases, while floral-inspired repeated patterns offer a contrasting backdrop.

Large carpets continue these motifs at different scales across the floors.

Mahdavi scenography
Many of the colours were lifted from the artworks

Mahdavi has also placed some of her own furniture designs in the gallery spaces, offering visitors the opportunity to pause and appreciate the paintings and their surroundings.

"Mahdavi envelopes Pierre Bonnard's works in an environment that complements Bonnard's distinct use of colour and texture, and evokes the wistful domestic intimacy for which his paintings are renowned," said the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

Pale yellow gallery space with two paintings and two stools
Several of Mahdavi's furniture designs are placed in the galleries

Bonnard was born in 1867, and his artistic career took off in the 1890s in Paris, where he began capturing street life.

The artist's focus then moved to domesticity, followed by landscapes thanks to the influence of his friend and neighbour in Normandy, Claude Monet.

Orange-red gallery space with a wooden table in the foreground
The exhibition is divided into 11 themes based on the subject matter of Bonnard's paintings

Bonnard later relocated to the south of France and created a large body of work there before his death in 1947.

"The paintings of Pierre Bonnard depict intimate domestic interiors, natural landscapes and urban scenes with subtlety, wit and a sensuous approach to colour and light," said the gallery.

Entirely brown gallery featuring a large painting
Some of the spaces are decorated entirely in one colour

The exhibition features loans from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, which holds the world's largest collection of Bonnard’s work, along with significant loans from other museums and private collections from around the world.

It is organised around 11 themes, which include landscapes, interiors, still life, early nudes, and large decorations.

There are also sections dedicated to his depictions of music and theatre, views from his 1920s studio in Le Cannet, and scenes of nature and daily life around the town.

"For Bonnard, landscape painting was a hybrid genre and often included glimpses of interiors and still lifes," said the gallery.

India Mahdavi posing in a pink room
Mahdavi is renowned for her use of colour

The gallery has hosted many immersive exhibitions and installations in recent years, including a scaled-down version of Greece's famous Parthenon temple, a mist-filled chasm in its sculpture garden, and Nendo's take on the drawings of MC Escher.

Mahdavi's best-known projects include the Gallery dining room at London restaurant Sketch, which she originally created in pale pink, then transformed with golden tones in 2022.

India Mahdavi leaning on a yellow sofa in a yellow gallery
Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi runs until 8 October 2023

She recently updated six rooms within Rome's 16th-century Villa Medici to feature an array of contemporary and colourful furniture.

Pierre Bonnard: Designed by India Mahdavi forms part of NGV's Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, and runs from 9 June to 8 October 2023. For more exhibitions, events and talks in architecture and design visit Dezeen's Events Guide

The photography is by Lillie Thompson.