Maurice Denis (1870 – 1943)
The group known as the ‘Nabis’ occupies a central place in our collection of Symbolist art. The artists banded together in 1889 to break away from academic conventions. Of particular importance are the works of Maurice Denis. His “Fruit Garden in the Hermitage” is a typical example of the Nabis’ flat style. It was once owned by Paul Gauguin and its flat, simplified forms and non-realistic coloration show the influence both of Gauguin and of the design principles of Japanese color woodblock prints. Around 1895 Denis moved away from the surface-bound painting of the Nabis. This period produced nudes like "Women with Lilac or Nudes at Dusk" with the features of his wife Marthe. The artist idealizes her, giving her the timeless beauty of a statue of classical antiquity. The flowers can be interpreted as hints of the start of spring and the renewal of life. The painting "Sinite parvulos or Let the children come to me" from 1900 is another of Denis's masterful combinations of family portrait and modern devotional image. In a monastery garden in his home town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris, Denis is kneeling before Christ. With the figure of Jesus Denis moved the family event of a First Communion into the sacred sphere and brought an episode from the New Testament into his immediate present.