Maurice Denis French, 1870-1943


Known as the "Nabi of the beautiful icons", the deeply religious Maurice Denis is celebrated alongside Vuillard and Bonnard as one of the most important Nabi painters, a founder of the movement and its brilliant theoretician, and unquestionably the most fervent promoter of the Nabis.  Denis wrote numerous reviews, articles, and treatises, including the group's manifesto defending the innovations of Paul Gauguin that emphasized the importance of the decorative elements of line, color, and form over pure representation.  A member of the Symbolist Movement, Denis constructed theories that contributed to the foundations of Cubism, Fauvism, and Abstract Art. 


Maurice Denis received a classical education in the Lycée Condorcet where he met Vuillard, Roussel and Lugné-Poë.  While studying in the Lycée he took drawing lessons and copied paintings by the old masters.  In 1888 he enrolled at the Adadémie Julian and then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  In the same year Paul Sérusier showed his friends at the Académie Julian the famous landscape that he had painted at the suggestion of Gauguin in Pont-Aven, which was considered a "talisman" of Gauguin's doctrine of Synthetism.  This was a decisive revelation for Denis who found himself attracted by the new idea of Synthetism and by Gauguin's paintings, which he first saw at the exhibition of the Impressionist and Synthetist Group at the Café Volpini in 1889.


Denis joined the Nabis (a Hebrew word meaning 'prophets') and in 1890, in the review Art et Critique, he published his famous article in which he stated the artistic credo of the group.  During this period he became associated with the Symbolist writers, illustrating the books of André Gide and Paul Verlaine's Sagesse, and designing front-pieces for Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande and for musical scores of Claude Debussy.


Like the other Nabis, Denis experimented in various fields of art, designing carpets, painting cartoons for stained-glass and mosaic panels, and decorating ceramics.  The 1890s saw his first large-scale decorative works, the painting ceiling in the house of the French composer Chausson (1894).            

Museums and Public Collections

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Columbia

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Illinois

Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, Indiana

Brooklyn Museum, New York City

Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Dallas Museum of Art, Texas    

Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco 

Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts

Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana

Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California    

MacKenzie Art Gallery, Saskatchewan

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota

Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pont-Aven, Fran

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper, France

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, France 

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, France

Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Musée Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 

Museum of Modern Art, New York

National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh  

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.  

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

National Museums Liverpool, UK

Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome 

Philadelphia Museum of Artania, Pennsylv 

Réunion des Musées Nationaux, France

San Diego Museum of Art, 

Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas

State Museums of Florence Digital Archive, Italy

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany

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