Monday, February 17, 2014

Denis, Maurice

Female bathers at Perros-Guirec
oil on canvas
98 x 122 cm
Petit Palais, City of Paris Fine Art Museum, Paris, France

 "Yes, it's necessary that I am a Christian painter, that I celebrate all the miracles of Christianity, I feel it's necessary." (Denis)

Maurice Denis (1870-1943) was a French painter and writer, and a member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements. His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism, fauvism, and abstract art.

He was born in Granville, Manche, a coastal town in the Normandy region of France. Waters and coastlines would remain favorite subject matter throughout his career, as would material drawn from the bible.

The Denis family was affluent, and he attended both the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian. At the Academie, he met painters and future Nabi members including Pierre Bonnard; through Bonnard he also met the future Nabis painters. In 1890, they formed The Nabis. They chose "Nabi" - Hebrew for "Prophet" - because they understood they would be creating new forms of expression. He was among the artists to insist on the flatness of the picture plane - one of the great starting points for modernism, as practiced in the visual arts. In his famous proposal for the definition of painting, offered in 1890, he stated: "Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." The Nabi group would split apart by the end of the decade, and would influence the later work of Bonnard, as well as non-Nabi painters like Henri Matisse. Denis died in Paris of injuries resulting from an automobile accident in November 1943.