– November 1943) was a French painter
, and a member of the Symbolist
and Les Nabis
movements. His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism
, and abstract art
Life and work
Childhood and Education
Maurice Denis was born November 25, 1870, in Granville, 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 surpisingly 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. 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
After Les Nabis
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 includes landscapes and figure studies, particularly of mother and child. But his primary interest remained the painting of religious subjects.
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 married his first wife, Marthe Meunier, 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.)
In 1980, the Maurice Denis Museum was opened in the artist's home in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
A major retrospective was mounted at The Musée Des Beaux Arts de Montréal in 2007; it was the first major Denis show in North America.
A similar exhibition took place in 1995 at the UK's Walker Art Gallery in 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