Maurice Denis 

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Biography of Maurice Denis  ( 1870-1943 )

Maurice Denis was born in Granville on November 25, 1870. Originally from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he lived for the rest of his life, he had a deep attachment to Brittany, where he spent most of his vacations, first with his parents and then with his family.

After studying at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, he attended the Louvre Museum, where the works of Fra Angelico determined his vocation as a Christian painter, later marked by the discovery of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Gauguin and Cézanne. He studied simultaneously at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian in 1888, but soon left the former, deeming it too academic.

In 1890, he exhibited for the first time at the Salon and published his famous article "Definition of neo-traditionism", the manifesto of the Nabis group created two years earlier with his fellow students from the Académie Julian: Ranson, Vuillard, Sérusier and Bonnard, after the painting lesson given by Gauguin to Sérusier.
All were in their twenties, driven by an ardent desire to reform painting, with solid classical studies that had inclined them to philosophical or religious discussions, and had given them a taste for theater and music, particularly that of Wagner.

With the enthusiasm of proselytes, they called themselves "brothers", gave themselves a meeting place called "temple", organized ceremonies, adopted an esoteric vocabulary: "ergastère" meant workshop, "icon" painting... and ended their letters with the initials: "E.T.P.M.V.E.M.P.", i.e.: En Ta Paume Mon Verbe et Ma Pensée. Not unlike the way Maurice Denis might have signed some of his works.
Nicknamed "the nabi with the beautiful icons", Maurice Denis was the group's theorist, asserting the primacy of the work of art over the subject represented, and declaring that it is by its pictorial qualities that a painting must above all impose itself. For the Nabis, painting was not a representation of reality, but an interpretation of it, with nature providing the motifs and the painter the way to represent them.

Initially synthetic and symbolic, his painting then moved towards a renewed classicism in the form of dazzling beach paintings, whose atmosphere is close to the photographs he was taking at the same time. Intimate and family scenes, religious themes and landscapes of Italy and Brittany are very present in his work.

In addition to easel paintings, Maurice Denis produced large-scale civil decorations in France and abroad (Ivan Morosov's music salon in Moscow, the cupola of the Champs-Élysées theater in Paris, etc.) and religious decorations (Sainte-Marguerite church in Le Vésinet, Saint-Paul church in Geneva, Saint-Louis church in Vincennes, etc.).

A tireless researcher and worker, he always claimed - including in his many writings - the coherence of a career path that, from Symbolism to late paintings, sought to reconcile Denis's decorative ambition, i.e. the systematic and exclusive use of the painting's essential components (flatness, color, composition) with the demand for constantly renewed content, whether linked to his Catholic faith, the description of modern life or the highly personal iconography he forged from the 1890s onwards.

In 1919, together with George Desvallières, he founded the Ateliers d'Art Sacré, with the aim of renewing Christian art. When he died in 1943, he left a considerable body of work.

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