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Our selection of works by Maurice Denis (1870-1943)

Works by Maurice Denis (1870-1943), a French painter and writer, and a member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements. His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism, fauvism, and abstract art. He was born in 1870, in Granville, 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. Maurice attended both the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. At the Académie, he met painters and future Nabi members including Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard; through Bonnard he also met the future Nabis Édouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Hermann-Paul. 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 Les 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. 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 whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." Denis died in Paris of injuries resulting from an automobile accident in November 1943.