Maurice Denis - Encyclopedia

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"MAURICE DENIS (1870-), French painter, was born at Granville, Manche, in 1870. He studied at Julian's Academy and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. As a student he came under the influence of Paul Serusier, one of Gauguin's associates at Pont Aven, and became a prominent member of the symboliste group which included also P. Bonnard, K. X. Roussel and E. Vuillard. Inspired mainly by Cezanne and Gauguin, the symbolistes represented a reaction against impressionism, in favour of synthesis and the use of form and colour to express subjective states of mind. Denis was also associated with the Rose Croix group which aimed at substituting an idealist decorative art for the realism of the day. To these influences was added that of Italian quattrocento art, as the result of a visit to Italy in 1894. Denis early turned his art to religious purposes, but classical mythology has also frequently provided him with subjects. His most important work is his mural decorations, which include decorations for the chapels of the church of Vesinet (1899-1903); " L'His- toire de Psyche," five panels for M. Morosoff, Moscow (1908); " L'age d'or," five panels for a staircase of the Prince de Wagram (1912); a frieze for the cupola of the Theatre des Champs Elysees illustrating in four panels the history of music (1912); decorations and stained glass for the church of St. Paul, Geneva (1917-8); and a decoration for La Chapelle du Souvenir in the church of Gagny (1920). All these works show the influence of quattrocento Italy in the linear character of the design, and the preference for spare, stiff, angular forms, which connect Denis with Puvis de Chavannes. His colour, however, is much more vivid than that painter's, and shows an impressionist palette and method of handling. An artist of great fecundity, Denis has also produced many easel pictures including a " Hornmage a Cezanne " (1901), somewhat in the manner of that painter; a portrait of Degas; and a long series of religious subjects typified by " La Meilleure Part " (1920). He has also illustrated among other books, Paul Verlaine's Sagesse (1891-1910), The Imitation of Christ (1903), and La Vita Nucva (1908). His frequent contributions on art to the reviews were republished in 1912 in Theorie 1890-1910, which contains much interesting comment on modern art. Denis has chiefly exhibited at the Societe Nationale, of which he became full member in 1902, at the Salon des Independents, and at the Salon d'Automne. He is represented in the Luxembourg, Paris. In 1910 he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

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