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 Maurice Denis  (1870 - 1943)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: abstract, symoblist painting, decoration, illustration

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Après-midi dans les bois
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Maurice Denis (November 25, 1870 – November 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.

Maurice Denis was born November 25, 1870, 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.  For such an avant-garde figure, Denis had a surprisingly broad religious streak, writing in his notebook at age fifteen, "Yes, it's necessary that I am a Christian painter, that I celebrate all the miracles of Christianity, I feel it's necessary."[1] The Denis family was affluent, and young Maurice attended both the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian, where he studied with the French figure painter and theorist Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

At the Académie, he met painters and future Nabi members including Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard; through Bonnard he also met the future Nabis Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel.  In 1890, they formed The Nabis.  They chose "Nabi"—Hebrew for "Prophet"—because they understood they would be creating new forms of expression. The group would split apart by the end of the decade, and would influence the later work of both Bonnard and Vuillard, as well as non-Nabi painters like Henri Matisse.

Denis went on to focus on religious subjects and murals.  In 1922, he published his collected historical and theoretical work as Nouvelles théories sur l’art moderne, sur l’art sacré—that is, "New Theories of Modern and Sacred Art." It is difficult to imagine another French artist capable of such a combination.

The subjects of his mature works include landscapes and figure studies, particularly of mother and child.  But his primary interest remained the painting of religious subjects, like The dignity of labour, commissioned in 1931 by the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions to decorate the main staircase of the Centre William Rappard.

Denis was among the first 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."

In 1898, he produced a theory of creation that found the source for art in the character of the painter: "That which creates a work of art is the power and the will of the artist."

Denis, a Catholic tertiary, married his first wife, Marthe Meurier, in 1893. They had seven children, and she would pose for numerous Denis works. Following her death in 1919, Denis painted a chapel dedicated to her memory. Two years later, he married again, to Elisabeth Graterolle, and fathered two more children.

Denis died in Paris of injuries resulting from an automobile accident in November 1943. (The date of his death is variously listed as the 2nd, 3rd, or 13th.)

Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Denis
    1.    ^ The BBC offers a surprisingly thorough capsule biography of the artist: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A23643209
    2.    ^ Maurice Denis : at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts | Art Knowledge News
    3.    ^ The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

    ?    Jean Paul Bouillon, Maurice Denis, 1993, ISBN 2605002454 & ISBN 978-2605002450
    ?    Russell T. Clement, Four French Symbolists: A Sourcebook on Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, and Maurice Denis, Greenwood Press, 1996, ISBN 0313297525 & ISBN 978-0313297526
    ?    Frèches-Thory, Claire, & Perucchi-Petri, Ursula, ed.: Die Nabis: Propheten der Moderne, Kunsthaus Zürich & Grand Palais, Paris & Prestel, Munich 1993 ISBN 3791319698 (German), (French)
    ?    Paul Jamot, Maurice Denis, 1945, ASIN B000XY26Y6
    ?    Jean-Jacques Leveque, Maurice Denis, 2006, ISBN 2867701813 & ISBN 978-2867701818


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Maurice Denis was born in Granville, France in 1870.  He was a school friend of Vuillard and Roussel; also a friend of Bonnard and Serusier, whom he met at Academie Julian.  He combined erudition with a sense of purity and refined sensibility, but unfortunately, he was less talented than his friends. He wrote some of the classic texts of modernistic painting, and he did so at a very early age.

He painted in light and clear colors, with flat planes and simplified forms. At the age of nineteen he was joined by Bonnard, Vuillard and others in founding the group called the Nabis. It was only for a very few years in the 1890s that the Nabis exhibited, or indeed even existed as a group, and even then they can scarcely be said to have worked in a uniform style or on the basis of consistent ideas.

Denis taught at the Academie Ransom from 1908 through 1919.  An intensely religious man, he set himself the task of reforming and renewing religious painting. He wrote extensively on the theory of art and on sacred art.  He died in 1943.

Submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
The Oxford Companion to 20th Century Art, edited by Harold Osborne
Hilton Kramer in Art & Antiques

Biography from Anderson Galleries, Inc.:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Maurice Denis was a central figure of the Symbolist movement.  He was also a founder member of the Nabis in 1888, and was thus led to design decorative panels, book illustrations, stained glass and theatre sets, as well as easel-paintings.

Plage au Yacht illustrates Denis’ symbolist tendencies of reducing forms to simplified suggestions.  The painting also demonstrates Denis’ Fauve-like love of color and exotic palette combinations.  Ultimately, his exquisite understanding of paint renders a casual seaside scene as a vibrant moving image of light and bold color.

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