Les Nabis

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.

Origin of the term

Nabi means prophet in Hebrew.

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.")


Meeting at Académie Julian, and then at the apartment of Paul Ranson, they preached that a work of art is the end product and the visual expression of an artist's synthesis of nature in personal aesthetic metaphors and symbols. They paved the way for the early 20th century development of abstract and non-representational art. The goal of integrating art and daily life, was a goal they had in common with most progressive artists of the time.


Nabis artists are noted for the variety of media in which they worked. They often painted on cardboard, using cool colors and warm tones. They blended turpentine with their paint, giving their canvases a matted effect. Their subjects were vague and devoid of realism. In addition to the fine arts, they worked in printmaking, poster design, book illustration, textiles, furniture and theatre design.

Their emphasis on design was shared by the parallel art nouveau movement. Both groups also had close ties to the Symbolists.

Members of the Nabis group and associated artists

Among the artists who considered themselves Nabis was Maurice Denis, whose journalism put the aims of the group in the eye of a progressive audience, and whose definition of painting — "a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order" — expressed the Nabis approach. His Théories (1920; 1922) summed up the Nabis' aims long after they had been superseded by the fauve painters and by cubism.

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.


See also




  • Patricia Eckert Boyer, The Nabis and the Parisian Avant-Garde, Rytgers Univ Press, 1989, ISBN 0813513804 & ISBN 978-0813513805
  • Charles Chasse, The Nabis and Their Period, London: Lund Humphries, 1969, ASIN B001387EYI
  • 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
  • Bernard Dorival, Les Peintres Du Vingtieme Sicle; Nabis, Fauves, Cubistes, Paris: Editions Pierre Tisne, 1957, ASIN B000PT18NY
  • Claire Freches-Thory and Antoine Terrasse, Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard and Their Circle, London: Flammarion, 2003, ISBN 2080110764 & ISBN 978-2080110763
  • Albert Kostenevitch, Bonnard: and the Nabis, London: Parkstone Press, ISBN 1859950159 & ISBN 978-1859950159

External links

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