Les Nabis were a group of Post-Impressionist avant-garde artists who set the pace for fine arts and graphic arts in France in the 1890s. Initially a group of friends interested in contemporary art and literature, most of them studied at the private art school of Rodolphe Julian (Académie Julian) in Paris in the late 1880s. In 1890, they began to successfully participate in public exhibitions, while most of their artistic output remained in private hands or in the possession of the artists themselves. By 1896, the unity of the group had already begun to break: The Hommage à Cézanne, painted by Maurice Denis in 1900, recollects memories of a time already gone, before even the term Nabis had been revealed to the public. Meanwhile, most members of the group - Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard - could stand, artistically, on their own. Only Paul Sérusier had problems to overcome—though it was his Talisman, painted at the advice of Paul Gauguin, that had revealed to them the way to go.
Les Nabis originated as a rebellious group of young student artists who banded together at the Académie Julian . Paul Sérusier galvanized Les Nabis, and provided the name and disseminated the example of Paul Gauguin among them. Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis became the best known of the group; at the time, however, they were somewhat peripheral to the core group.
The term was coined by the poet Henri Cazalis who drew a parallel between the way these painters aimed to revitalize painting and the way the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel. Possibly the nickname arose because "most of them wore beards, some were Jews and all were desperately earnest".
Les Nabis regarded themselves as initiates, and used a private vocabulary. They called a studio ergasterium, and ended their letters with the initials E.T.P.M.V. et M.P., meaning "En ta paume, mon verbe et ma paume" ("In the palm of your hand, my word and my palm.")
Other Nabis were Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Paul Ranson and Félix Vallotton. The sculptor Aristide Maillol was associated for a time with the group. The post-Impressionist styles they embraced skirted some aspects of contemporary art nouveau and Symbolism. The influence of the English Arts and Crafts Movement set them to work in media that involved crafts beyond painting: printmaking, book illustration and poster design, textiles and set design.