Abirpothi

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Maurice Denis: A theorist and painter of the spirits

NOVEMBER 25, ON THIS DAY

\”Art remains a sure refuge, the hope of a reason for our life here, and this consoling thought that a little beauty is also found in our life, and that we are continuing the work of creation….the labor of art has merit; to inscribe the marvelous beauty of flowers, of the light, of the proportion of trees and the form of waves, and the perfection of face, to inscribe our poor and lamentable life of suffering, of hope and of thought.\”

Maurice Denis

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Maurice Denis was a French painter, designer, lithographer, illustrator, and writer on art theory, who was an important figure in the transitional period between impressionism and modern art. He joined the Nabis at the beginning of his career and was a Symbolist. He was the group\’s principal thinker, and one of his writings, \”Definition of Neo-Traditionalism,\” contains a pronouncement that has become famous as an anticipation of the underlying principle of much modern especially abstract art.

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Maurice Denis was born on 25 November 1870 in Granville, Manche. He discovered the Louvre and began learning how to draw in 1884. Because of his religious convictions, he developed an interest in the sacred paintings of Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico. While studying at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1888, Maurice Denis made friends with Paul Sérusier, an artist who shared his interests in flat surfaces and form reduction.

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Although flat patterning was heavily emphasised in Denis\’s early work, which was heavily influenced by Gauguin, he did not seek to promote non-representational art because he was also highly interested in the subject matter. As a devout Catholic, he wished to see a resurgence in religious painting. He completed numerous religious assignments, usually in a gentle and mild manner with muted colours and loose lines. He also completed a significant amount of secular ornamental work.

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Denis and his compatriots saw Serusier’s landscape as nothing short of a revelation, and in 1888, decided to form a movement around this new aesthetic vision. They would call themselves “Les Nabis,” deriving from the Hebrew term for ‘prophet,’ and would refer to Serusier’s painting as “The Talisman.” In the words of Serusier, “painters since the Renaissance have worked to complicate the profession,” and so the Nabis took it upon themselves to revitalize the art form. In accordance with the ideas of this art movement, Denis created canvases, distinguished by the simplicity of forms, the softness of lines and rhythm. Denis was nicknamed the \”Nabi of the beautiful icons\”, because of his compulsion towards a kind of religious iconography informed by his Catholicism, very different from the unorthodox or theosophical Spirituality which influenced other members of the Nabi group.

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The master\’s later works stand out for their monumentality and plot progression. Over time, Denis\’ painting develops a more traditional and ornamental style and picks up enigmatic religious and even supernatural undertones. Large-scale wall murals by the artist are produced for cathedrals, theatres, and other structures. He paints theatrical scenery, decorative panels, and stained glass. Denis was one of the most well-known art theorists of his time in addition to being a painter. His essays on modern art, which appeared in a number of periodicals, were later compiled in Theories and Nouvelles Theories. One of his most well-known pieces is Spring, and others include the ceiling of the Paris theatre des Champs-Elysees and the murals for the church at Le Vesinet that depict dance, symphony, opera, and lyrical drama.

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The ambition to use plastic signs and visual ways to convey ideas and emotions was the central theme of his works. Denis emphasises the importance of substance over form and the superiority of the spiritual over the material. The visitor discerns an unbreakable link between the pictorial language and the state of the soul in the painter\’s canvases. Despite frequently depicting daily life, his paintings are always distinguished by a strong sense of great spirituality and purity.

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Sources: 

  1. https://www.theartstory.org/artist/denis-maurice/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Denis
  3. https://www.sothebys.com/en/artists/maurice-denis
  4. https://totallyhistory.com/maurice-denis/

 

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