Birth name Maurice Denis
Born November 25, 1870, Granville, France
Died November 1943, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
Movement Post-impressionism, Symbolism
His early brilliance at the Lycee Condorcet was followed by a period at the Academie Julian where Paul Serusier, just returned from a visit to Brittany, had become the apostle of Gauguin. Breaking entirely with academism, Denis quickly became the spiritual leader of the Nabis, who evolved towards Cloisonnism, Synthetism, Neotraditionalism and Symbolism. Denis exhibited with the Nabis at the Cafe Volpini, then at the Independants. Denis also had considerable literary gifts and in 1890 published an article in the review Art et Critique, defining the Nabist aesthetic in this famous sentence: "Remember that a picture-before being a war horse, a naked woman or some anecdote-is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order." Without escaping from Neo-Impressionism (Mystere catholique, 1890) or from Japanism (Portrait of Madame Ranson, 1889) Denis, with Serusier, came under Gauguin's strong influence. A muted palette, matt textures, flat forms with sinewy contours characteristic of the "modern style", bold simplification, archaisms, rediscovery of decorative form- these were the characteristics of Denis's style when he first visited Italy in 1895. His discovery of the great Quattrocento frescoists led him to a more constructed style of painting-an evolution which made him adopt more traditional formulae, but which he enlivened· with Impressionist borrowings. Among the numerous buildings he was commissioned to decorate were the church of Saint-Louis de Vincennes, the ceiling of the Theatre des Champs-E1ysees, the Palace of the League of Nations and the ceiling of the grand staircase in the Senat. A devout Christian, Denis was co-founder, with Georges Desvallieres, of the Ateliers de l'art sacre in
1919. He led a quiet life at Saint-Germainen-Laye, became a member of the Institute and died after being run over by a lorry. He wrote various studies, including Theories et Nouvelles Theories, of sacred art. He also painted many religious pictures (The Communicants, Sisters ofCharity, Annunciation, Easter Morning, The Martyr), beach scenes (The Bathers, The Beach), and large-scale compositions. Lastly, he interpreted the works of Ver1aine and Maeterlinck.
Post-Impressionism, Michel-Claude Jalard, Edito Service SA, Geneva