In his biography of Bonnard in 1927, Charles Terrasse revealed the existence of a small sketchbook of about ten pages, the first five of which are devoted to the series "The Painter's Life". Terrasse explains that the artist "had once enjoyed describing ["his life in pictures"] like this, in a notebook". This page is the first in which Bonnard sets out his autobiographical "tale".
What is special about this humorous collection is the juxtaposition of intimate accounts with historiographic scenes from the Nabi movement. Here we see Bonnard, still a baby, on his mother's lap, then, a little older, dressed in a sailor suit. In the centre is a scene with Sérusier and Vallotton from his time at the Julian Academy. Finally, at the bottom of the page, Vuillard, Roussel and Bonnard are shown strolling through Place Clichy, while on the right Toulouse-Lautrec, Tapié de Celeyran and Maurice Denis are seen outside the Moulin-Rouge.
Quite apart from his own career, Bonnard is here recounting some of the great milestones of the collective adventure of the young Nabis. The Painter's Life shows – in spite of its light tone and element of caricature – that Bonnard was clearly aware of the crucial moments in the history of the group.
The historical viewpoint, the care taken over the drawings, their separation into a carefully ordered sequence and their level of finish suggest that the artist intended them to be published. These are not simply spontaneous, retrospective or nostalgic jottings. The Painter's Life can be interpreted as an irreverent counterpoint to some of the pompous autobiographies of artists who were his contemporaries.
The idea of a biography in pictures appeared much later, three years before the painter's death, in 1944. In Correspondances, Bonnard illustrates family letters, real or fictitious, from his childhood and his youth.