Art News

The Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny Presents Maurice Denis

artwork: Maurice Denis - "Avril: Les Anémones (April: The Anemones)", 1891 - Oil on canvas - 65 x 78 cm. - Private colleciton © Paris, ADAGP, 2011. On view at the  Musée des Impressionnismes, giverny in "Maurice Denis: The Eternal Spring" until July 15th 2012.

Giverny, France.- The Musée des Impressionnismes is proud to present an exhibition exploring the theme of spring in the work of Maurice Denis (1870-1943). “Maurice Denis: The Eternal Spring” will be on view at the museum through July 15th 2012. The exhibition comprises approximately eighty works – paintings and drawings – and is accompanied by extensive documentation in the form of photographs, publications and correspondence. The works on show include loans from the most prestigious public and private collections, some of which have been displayed publicly only rarely or never at all in France.

artwork: Maurice Denis - "Les Musiciennes (The Musicians)", 1908 Oil on canvas - 246 x 150 cm. Collection of the Musée départemental Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye © Paris, ADAGP, 2011.The exhibition is divided into three main sections: ‘The Awakening of Nature in Springtime’; ‘Christian Spring and Earthly Paradise’; and ‘The First Signs Of Love and The Spring Of Life’. It will also present throughout a little known aspect of Denis’s production, that of his talent as a painter-decorator, by recomposing constitutive elements of some of his large decorative projects.Maurice Denis was born November 25, 1870, in Granville, Manche, 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 surprisingly 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 and 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 the 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.”

The subjects of his mature works include landscapes and figure studies, particularly of mother and child. But his primary interest remained the painting of religious subjects, like “The dignity of labour”, commissioned in 1931 by the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions to decorate the main staircase of the Centre William Rappard. 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 what not, 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 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.)

artwork: Maurice Denis - "Pommier en fleurs (Apple Tree in Bloom)", circa 1908 - Oil on canvas - Private colleciton © Catalogue raisonné Maurice Denis © Paris, ADAGP, 2011. - At the  Musée des Impressionnismes, giverny in "Maurice Denis: The Eternal Spring" until July 15th 2012.

The musée des impressionnismes in Giverny, a village in Normandy, is dedicated to the history of Impressionism and its continuation in the Giverny art colony and along the Valley of the River Seine. Claude Monet moved to Giverny in 1883. Although he never encouraged other artists to follow him, the village soon attracted a circle of Americans eager to put the principles of Impressionism into practice at the heart of the Norman landscape. Founded by Daniel J. Terra in 1992, the musée d’art américain Giverny generated an unprecedented stream of exhibitions, publications, conferences, lectures, and residencies for art historians and artists on the theme of American art, during its sixteen years of existence. In 2009, a partnership was signed between the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Conseil général de l’Eure, the Conseil régional de Haute-Normandie, the Conseil général de la Seine-Maritime, the Communauté d’Agglomération des Portes de l’Eure, the Municipality of Vernon and the musée d’Orsay, to create the musée des impressionnismes Giverny that replaces the musée d’art américain. This museum is dedicated to the history of Impressionism and its aftermath, together with its more distant impact on the second half of the twentieth century. The Terra Foundation maintains an active presence on the Board of Directors of this institution, and also continues to loan artworks, organize exhibitions on American art, and through grants, participate in developing this venue. The musée d’Orsay provides scientific backing together with its special loans policy. The gallery is dedicated to the Impressionist movement, but also offers an exploration of this aesthetic movement beyond the circle of painters generally recognised as Impressionists, as much leading up to the style (its precursors) as resulting from it (post-World War II movements and even contemporary art). Visit the museum’s website at …