Developments in the 19th Century



 




Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map


 




SYMBOLISM

in

FRANCE




(Between Romanticism and Expressionism)


 




Maurice Denis

(1870- 1943)

 

 


Maurice Denis

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

French painter, one of the leading artists and theoreticians of the Symbolist movement.

Denis studied at the Académie Julian (1888) under Jules Lefebvre and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Reacting against the naturalistic tendencies of Impressionism, Denis fell under the influence of the work of Paul Gauguin, whose style was also much admired by Denis's fellow students Paul Serusier, Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Ker Xavier Roussel. With these friends, Denis joined in the Symbolist movement and its later offshoot, the group of painters collectively called the Nabis (q.v.). The quasi-mystical attitude of the Nabis was perfectly suited to Denis's highly religious nature. In 1890 Denis expressed the underlying principle of much modern painting in the following often-quoted words: “It should be remembered that a picture—before being a warhorse, a nude, or an anecdote of some sort—is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.”

Later, however, after visiting Italy, Denis became greatly influenced by the works of the great Italian fresco painters ofthe 14th and 15th centuries and began to place emphasis on subject matter, traditional perspective, and modeling, as in “Homage à Cezanne” (1901). Denis's monumental mural decorations are to be seen in many French churches as well as on the ceiling of the Champs Elysees Theatre in Paris. In 1919 he, along with Georges Devallières, founded the Studios of Sacred Art. His work was one of the chief forces in the revival of religious art in France.

 

 
 

b Granville, 25 Nov 1870; d Paris, 13 Nov 1943.

French painter, designer, printmaker and theorist. Although born in Normandy, Denis lived throughout his life in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, just west of Paris. He attended the Lycée Condorcet, Paris, where he met many of his future artistic contemporaries, then studied art simultaneously at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the Académie Julian (1888–90). Through fellow student Paul Sérusier, in 1888 he learnt of the innovative stylistic discoveries made that summer in Pont-Aven by Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. With Sérusier and a number of like-minded contemporaries at the Académie Julian—Pierre Bonnard, Paul Ranson, Henri-Gabriel Ibels and others—Denis found himself fundamentally opposed to the naturalism recommended by his academic teachers. They formed the NABIS, a secret artistic brotherhood dedicated to a form of pictorial Symbolism based loosely on the synthetic innovations of Gauguin and Bernard. Denis’s first article, ‘Définition du néo-traditionnisme’, published in Art et critique in 1890 (and republished in Théories), served almost as a group manifesto and gave a theoretical justification for the practical and technical innovations of the Pont-Aven school. With its opening statement, ‘It is well to remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order’ (frequently quoted out of context), Denis contributed to the development of a formalist, modernist aesthetic in the 20th century. The bold experiments in flat paint application and anti-naturalistic colour that characterized his early Nabi work seemed to prefigure later abstract initiatives. Both as an artist and as a theorist, however, Denis retreated from the radical position he had adopted as a student in 1890. He had never denied the importance of subject-matter, and in his later painting he devoted himself to the revival of religious imagery.

 
 

 

 
The Road to Calvary
1889
 
   
Mother and Child
1890
 
   
The Two Sisters
1891
 
   
   
Easter Morning or Easter Mystery
1891
 
   
Regata at Perros
1892
 
   
L'echelle dans le feuillage
1892
 
 

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