These glimpses are likely the result of Bonnard’s burgeoning interest in photography, one which would inform his ephemeral compositions throughout his career. ‘The camera helped Bonnard capture the fugitive instants of vision and experience — those elusive moments of recognition, perception, and emotion — that he said one must seize and note as quickly as possible’ (ibid., p. 177). His practice was, however, equally informed by memory and as such, again differed from the immediate visual perception characteristic of Impressionism. Using a few rapid strokes of pen, Bonnard would capture the passing energy of the scene in his sketchbook before returning to his studio to conceive his colours and compositions from a subjective and sensory memory.
Whereas his predecessors depicted the climactic race, here Bonnard paints the moments before. The figures of the riders and horses in the present work are displaced amongst the fashionable crowd, suggesting that the painting’s true subject is in fact not the horse race but rather the social spectacle itself. In juxtaposing the bustling foreground with the verdant greens of the racetrack and rolling hills, Bonnard further captures the exciting spirit of modern life. The viewer joins the crowd of spectators to contemplate and rejoice in the fleeting moments and social theatrics that Bonnard so enjoyed.
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