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the nabis and intimate modernism

Providing a fresh perspective on an important but underappreciated group

of late nineteenth-century French painters, this is the first book to provide an
in-depth account of the Nabis’ practice of the decorative, and its significance
for twentieth-century modernism.
Over the course of the ten years that define the Nabi movement (1890–
1900), its principal artists included Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard,
Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, and Paul Ranson. The author reconstructs
the Nabis’ relationship to Impressionism, mass culture, literary Symbolism,
Art Nouveau, Wagnerianism, and a revolutionary artistic tradition in order
to show how their painterly practice emerges out of the pressing questions
defining modernism around 1900. She shows that the Nabis were engaged,
nonetheless, with issues that are always at stake in accounts of nineteenth-
century modernist painting, issues such as the relationship of high and low
art, of individual sensibility and collective identity, of the public and private
The Nabis and Intimate Modernism is a rigorous study of the intellectual
and artistic endeavors that inform the Nabis’ decorative domestic paintings
in the 1890s, and argues for their centrality to painterly modernism. The
book ends up not only re-positioning the Nabis to occupy a crucial place
in modernism’s development from 1860 to 1914, but also challenges that
narrative to place more emphasis on notions of decoration, totality and

Katherine M. Kuenzli is Associate Professor of Art History

at Wesleyan University, USA.
The Nabis and Intimate Modernism
Painting and the Decorative at the Fin-de-Siècle

Katherine M. Kuenzli
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
First published 2010 by Ashgate Publishing

Published 2016 by Routledge

2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

Copyright © 2010 Katherine M. Kuenzli

Katherine M. Kuenzli has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any
form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented,
including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publishers.

Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used
only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Kuenzli, Katherine Marie.
The Nabis and intimate modernism : painting and the
decorative at the fin-de-siècle.
1. Nabis (Group of artists) 2. Nabis (Group of artists)--
Influence. 3. Painting, French--19th century. 4. Modernism
I. Title

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kuenzli, Katherine Marie.
The Nabis and intimate modernism : painting and the decorative at the fin-de-siècle /
Katherine M. Kuenzli.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7546-6777-3 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Nabis (Group of artists) 2. Painting, French--19th century. 3. Decoration and
ornament--Influence. I. Title. II. Title: Painting and the decorative at the fin-de-siècle.

ND547.5.N3K84 2009

ISBN  9780754667773 (hbk)


List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgements xvii

Introduction 1
Intimacy and the Dream of Public Art 10
Transgressing Spatial and Gender Distinctions 13
The Home as a Total Work of Art 15
The Nabis and Modernism 19
Method 23

1 Decorating the Street, Decorating the Home: Bonnard’s

Women in the Garden and the Poster 33
Women in the Garden: Between Posters and Painterly Symbolism 36
Bonnard’s Intimate Paris 47
Posters and the Dream of Unity 56
A Hybrid Art Form 59

2 Wagner as Intimist: Vuillard’s Desmarais Decoration and

the Symbolist Theater 69
The Nabis and the Symbolist Theater 71
Interior/Interiority 82
Wagnerian Painterly Aesthetics 88

3 Modernism and Catholicism in Maurice Denis’s

Frauenliebe und Leben 105
Schumann and Wagner 109
Denis’s Neo-Traditionism 119
Symbolists and Decadents 127
Matter and Spirit 132
vi the nabis and intimate modernism

4 Two Versions of the Gesamtkunstwerk: The Nabis and the

Art Nouveau Interior 149
Theorizing the Art Nouveau Interior 152
The Gesamtkunstwerk and the Nabi Interior 165

5 The Art of Reverie: Vuillard’s Vaquez Decoration and

the Nabis’ Critical Legacy 185
Unfamiliar Domesticity 187
The Art of Reverie 193
The Vaquez Panels’ Critical Reception 197

An Armchair Aesthetic: From the Nabis to Matisse and Beyond 215

Bibliography 231
Index 265
List of Illustrations

All works by Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Edouard Vuillard © Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Other copyright credits are listed in individual
entries below. The author has made every effort to recover and credit copyright holders.
Anyone objecting to the reproduction of any copyrighted images without permission
should contact the author.

Color Plates paper mounted on canvas, 160 × 48 cm.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: Hervé
1  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens: The Lewandowski. Photo credit: Réunion des
Nursemaids, The Conversation, The Red Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
Sunshade (1894), distemper on canvas,
213.5 × 73 cm, 213 × 154 cm, 214 × 81 5  Pierre Bonnard, Women in the Garden:
cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: Jean Woman Seated with Cat (1891), painted
Schormans. Photo credit: Réunion des paper mounted on canvas, 160 × 48 cm.
Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: Hervé
Lewandowski. Photo credit: Réunion des
2  Pierre Bonnard, Women in the Garden: Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
Woman in a Dress with White Dots (1891),
6  Edouard Vuillard, Desmarais Panels:
painted paper mounted on canvas, 160
The Dressmaking Studio I (1892), oil on
× 48 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo:
canvas, 48.5 × 117 cm. Private collection.
Hervé Lewandowski. Photo credit:
Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art
Resource, NY 7  Edouard Vuillard, Desmarais Panels:
The Dressmaking Studio II (1892), oil on
3  Pierre Bonnard, Women in the Garden:
canvas, 48.5 × 117 cm. Private collection.
Woman in a Checkered Dress (1891),
Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
painted paper mounted on canvas, 160
× 48 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: 8  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und Leben:
Hervé Lewandowski. Photo credit: Farandole (1895), oil on canvas, 48 × 205
Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art cm. Private collection. Photo credit:
Resource, NY Catalogue raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-
4  Pierre Bonnard, Women in the
Garden: Woman in a Blue Shawl (Woman 9  Edouard Vuillard, Album (1895),
with a Hooded Cape) (1891), painted oil on canvas, 67.6 × 204.5 cm. The
viii the nabis and intimate modernism

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 0.4  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens:
The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg The Two Schoolboys (1894), distemper on
Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore canvas, 214 × 98 cm. Musées Royaux des
Annenberg, 2000. Bequest of Walter H. Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. Photo
Annenberg, 2002. (2000.93.2) Image credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
0.5  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens:
10  Edouard Vuillard, Vaquez Decoration: Under the Trees (1894), distemper on
Library and Desk (1896), distemper canvas, 214.2 × 96.3 cm. The Cleveland
on canvas, 212.5 × 77.25 cm, 212.5 × Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund,
77.25 cm. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. 1953.212
Inv. 2439. Photo: Bulloz. Photo credit:
Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art 0.6  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens:
Resource, NY Little Girls Playing (1894), distemper on
canvas, 212 × 84 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
11  Edouard Vuillard, Vaquez Decoration: Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
The Salon (The Reader) (1896), distemper
on canvas, 212.5 × 154.5 cm. Musée 0.7  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens:
du Petit Palais, Paris. Inv. 2439. Photo: Asking Questions (1894), distemper on
Bulloz. Photo credit: Réunion des canvas, 212 × 96 cm. Musée d’Orsay,
Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY Paris. Photo credit: Vuillard Archive,
12  Edouard Vuillard, Vaquez Decoration:
Music (The Piano) (1896), distemper on 0.8  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens:
canvas, 210 × 153 cm. Musée du Petit The Promenade (1894), distemper on
Palais, Paris. © ARS, NY. Photo credit: canvas, 214.3 × 97.2 cm (frame: 229.2
Banque d’Images, ADAGP/Art Resource, × 110.5 cm). The Museum of Fine
NY Arts, Houston; The Robert Lee Blaffer
Memorial Collection, Gift of Mr. and
Black-and-White Illustrations Mrs. Kenneth Dale Owen

Introduction 0.9  Edouard Vuillard, Public Gardens:

First Steps (1894), distemper on canvas,
0.1  Georges Seurat, A Sunday on the 212 × 67 cm. Private collection, USA.
Grande Jatte (1884–86), oil on canvas, Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
205.5 × 308.1 cm. Helen Birch Bartlett
Memorial Collection, 1926.224, The Art 0.10  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes,
Institute of Chicago. Photography © The Ancient Vision (1885), oil on canvas
Art Institute of Chicago affixed to wall, 460 × 578 cm. Musée des
Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Photo credit: ©
0.2  Claude Monet, The Valley of the MBA Lyon/Alain Basset
Creuse (Sunlight Effect) (1889), oil on
canvas, 65.1 × 92.4 cm. Boston, Museum 0.11  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes,
of Fine Arts. Julia Cheney Edwards Christian Interpretation (1886), oil on
Collection. Photograph © 2010 Museum canvas affixed to wall, 460 × 578 cm.
of Fine Arts, Boston Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Photo
credit: © MBA Lyon/Alain Basset
0.3  Claude Monet, The Creuse Valley,
Evening Effect (1889), oil on canvas, 65 0.12  Proposed reconstruction of the
× 81 cm. Musée Marmottan, Paris/The dining room at Marie Henry’s Buvette de
Bridgeman Art Library la plage, Le Pouldu, France
list of illustrations ix

0.13  Edgar Degas, The Tub (1886), pastel (1890–91), oil sketch, 154 × 47 cm.
on heavy wove paper, 60 × 83 cm. Inv. Kunsthaus Zürich
RF4046. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski.
Fonds Orsay. Louvre, Paris. Photo credit: 1.7  Pierre Bonnard, Woman with Dog
Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art (1891), oil on canvas, 40.6 × 32.4 cm.
Resource, NY The Sterling and Francine Clark Art
Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
0.14  Pierre Bonnard, Intimacy (1891), Photograph copyright © 2009 Sterling
oil on canvas, 38 × 36 cm. Inv. R1992- and Francine Clark Art Institute
406. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski. Musée
d’Orsay, Paris. Photo credit: Réunion 1.8  Pierre Bonnard, Twilight (Croquet
des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, Game) (1892), oil on canvas, 130 × 162.5
NY cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. RF
1985–8. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski.
0.15  Edouard Vuillard, Interior, Mother Photo credit: Réunion des Musées
and Sister of the Artist (1893), oil on Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
canvas, 46.3 × 56.5 cm. The Museum of
Modern Art, New York. Photo credit: 1.9  Jules Chéret, Bal du Moulin Rouge
Vuillard Archive, Paris (1889), lithograph in vermilion, yellow,
blue-violet, gray-green, and black, sheet
1  Decorating the Street, Decorating 124.14 × 87.95 cm; plate 120.02 × 87 cm.
the Home: Pierre Bonnard’s Women in Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
the Garden and the Poster Kurt J. Wagner MD and C. Kathleen
Wagner Collection. Photograph ©
1.1  Pierre Bonnard, France-Champagne
Museum Associates/LACMA
(1891), color lithograph, 78 × 50 cm.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris 1.10  Jules Chéret, Vin Mariani (1894),
lithograph in vermilion, chrome yellow,
1.2  Maurice Denis, poster for La Dépêche
ultramarine and gray-violet, sheet
de Toulouse (1892), color lithograph, 140 ×
118.11 × 81.91 cm. Los Angeles County
90 cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
Museum of Art, Kurt J. Wagner MD
and C. Kathleen Wagner Collection.
1.3  Edouard Vuillard, Bécane (1894), Photograph © Museum Associates/
color lithograph, 80.8 × 60.4 cm. LACMA
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
1.11  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At
1.4  Maurice Denis, illustration the Moulin Rouge: The Dance (1890), oil
for Verlaine’s Sagesse (1891), wood on canvas, 115 × 150 cm. Philadelphia
engraving, 73 × 61 cm. Musée Museum of Art, The Henry P. McIlhenny
Départemental Maurice Denis ‘Le Collection in Memory of Frances P.
Prieuré,’ Saint-Germain-en-Laye McIlhenny, 1986

1.5  Maurice Denis, Poetic Arabesques for 1.12  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin
a Ceiling Decoration (Ladder in the Foliage) Rouge: La Goulue (1891), color lithograph,
(1892), oil on canvas glued to cardboard, 175 × 115 cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de
235 × 172 cm. Musée Départemental France, Paris
Maurice Denis ‘Le Prieuré,’ Saint-
1.13  Pierre Bonnard, Chahut, Moulin
Rouge (1891), sketch, pastel and charcoal,
1.6  Pierre Bonnard, Women in the 54.6 × 48.4 cm. The J. Paul Getty
Garden: Woman in a Checkered Dress Museum, Los Angeles, California
 the nabis and intimate modernism

1.14  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1.23  Félix Vallotton, The Age of Paper.

Ambassadeurs: Aristide Bruant (1892), Published in Le Cri de Paris, 23 January
color lithograph, 138 × 94 cm. 1898. Photomechanical print, 28.5 × 19.5
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
1.15  Pierre Bonnard, La Revue blanche
(1894), color lithograph, 80 × 62 cm.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris 2  Wagner as Intimist: Vuillard’s
Desmarais Decoration and the
1.16  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Symbolist Theater
Revue blanche (1895), color lithograph,
sheet 129.6 × 93.2 cm. Publisher: G. 2.1  Edouard Vuillard, Desmarais Panels:
Charpentier and E. Pasquelle for La Stroking the Dog (1892), oil on canvas,
Revue blanche, Paris. Printer: Edward 48.5 × 170 cm. Private collection. Photo
Ancourt, Paris. Edition: 1000–3000. credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
Purchase, 1967. The Museum of Modern
2.2  Edouard Vuillard, Desmarais Panels:
Art, New York. Digital image © The
Gardening (1892), oil on canvas, 48.5 ×
Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by
170 cm. Private collection. Photo credit:
SCALA/Art Resource, NY
Vuillard Archive, Paris
1.17  Pierre Bonnard, L’Estampe et
2.3  Edouard Vuillard, Desmarais Panels:
l’affiche (1897), color lithograph, 83.8 ×
Nursemaids and Children in a Public Park
61.7 cm. Yale University Art Gallery.
(1892), oil on canvas, 48.5 × 117 cm.
Purchased with a gift from J. Paul
Private collection. Photo credit: Vuillard
Oppenheim, BA 1929, by exchange.
Archive, Paris
Photo credit: Yale University Art
Gallery 2.4  Edouard Vuillard, Desmarais Panels:
A Game of Shuttlecock (1892), oil on
1.18  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Elles:
canvas, 48.5 × 117 cm. Private collection.
Woman Reclining, Waking Up (1896),
Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
bistre lithograph, sheet 40 × 52.1 cm. Yale
University Art Gallery, Gift of A. Conger 2.5  Pierre Bonnard, La Geste du roi,
Goodyear, BA 1899. 1959.62.4 illustration from Le Livre d’art: suite aux
Programmes du Théâtre d’Art (1891–92),
1.19  Pierre Bonnard, frontispiece
photomechanical reproduction, 14.3 × 6.8
for La Lithographie originale en couleurs
cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
(1898), color lithograph, 21.5 × 19.5 cm.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
Paris 2.6  Paul Sérusier, La Fille aux mains
coupées, illustration from Le Livre
1.20  Pierre Bonnard, Le Moulin Rouge
d’art: suite aux Programmes du Théâtre
(1896), oil on canvas, 61 × 40 cm. Private
collection d’Art (1891–92), photomechanical
reproduction, 11.2 × 6.7 cm. Bibliothèque
1.21  Pierre Bonnard, The Painter’s Life, Nationale de France, Paris
page 1 of sketchbook (circa 1910). Private
collection 2.7  Maurice Denis, Théodat,
illustration from Le Livre d’art: suite aux
1.22  Henri-Gabriel Ibels, L’Escarmouche Programmes du Théâtre d’Art (1891–92),
(The Skirmish) (1893), color lithograph, photomechanical reproduction, 9.2 × 5.3
64.5 × 50 cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
France, Paris Paris
list of illustrations xi

2.8  Paul Ranson, Le Bateau ivre, Louvre, Paris. Inv. 779. Photo: R.G.
illustration from Le Livre d’art: suite Ojeda. Photo credit: Réunion des Musées
aux Programmes du Théâtre d’Art (1891– Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
92), photomechanical reproduction, 10.8
× 5.4 cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de 2.16  Georges Antoine Rochegrosse,
France, Paris Knight Among the Flower-Maidens, from
Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ (1894), oil on canvas,
2.9  Maurice Denis, theater program for 235 × 375 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Maurice Maeterlinck’s Intérieur (1895), Photo: Hervé Lewandowski. Photo
lithograph, sheet 25 × 33.7 cm. Zimmerli credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/
Art Museum, New Brunswick, New Art Resource, NY. © 2010 Artists Rights
Jersey Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP,
2.10  Edouard Vuillard, Solness, le
constructeur (The Master Builder) by
Henrik Ibsen (1894), lithograph in black 3  Modernism and Catholicism in
on brown wove paper, sheet 32.5 × 24.2 Maurice Denis’s Frauenliebe und Leben
cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington
DC, Gift of The Atlas Foundation. 3.1  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und
Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, Leben: The Communicants (1895), oil on
National Gallery of Art, Washington canvas, 50 × 90 cm. Private collection.
Photograph taken circa 1898. Photo
2.11  Maurice Denis, The Two Sisters, credit: Catalogue raisonné Maurice
Fragment of L’Intruse (1891), oil on Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
canvas, 47.5 × 39.5 cm (including frame).
Amsterdam. Photo credit: Catalogue 3.2  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und
raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain- Leben: Young Girl at the Mirror (1895), oil
en-Laye on canvas, 49 × 34 cm. Private collection.
Photograph taken circa 1898. Photo
2.12  Edouard Vuillard, L’Intruse (1891), credit: Catalogue raisonné Maurice
oil on board, 28 × 60.5 cm. Private Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
collection. Photo credit: Vuillard Archive,
Paris 3.3  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und
Leben: Farandole (1895), oil on canvas, 48
2.13  Henri Fantin-Latour, The Daughters × 205 cm. Private collection. Photo credit:
of the Rhine (Rheingold) (1888), oil on Catalogue raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-
canvas, 115.5 × 79 cm. Hamburger Germain-en-Laye
Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. Photo:
Elke Walford. Photo credit: Bildarchiv 3.4  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und
Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, Leben: Engagement Wreath (1895), oil on
NY canvas, approx. 45 × 137 cm. Presumed
lost. Photograph taken circa 1898. Photo
2.14  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The credit: Catalogue raisonné Maurice
Poor Fisherman (1881), oil on canvas, 156 Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
× 193 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo:
Hervé Lewandowski. Photo credit: 3.5  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und
Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Leben: Marriage (1895), oil on canvas,
Resource, NY approx. 45 × 134 cm. Presumed lost.
Photograph taken circa 1898. Photo
2.15  Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa credit: Catalogue raisonné Maurice
(1503–06), oil on poplar, 77 × 53 cm. Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
xii the nabis and intimate modernism

3.6  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und oil on canvas, 38.2 × 61.2 cm. Private
Leben: Birth (1895), oil on canvas, approx. collection. Photo credit: Catalogue
50 × 201 cm. Presumed lost. Photograph raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-
taken circa 1898. Photo credit: Catalogue en-Laye
raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-
en-Laye 3.15  Maurice Denis, Four Panels for a
Young Girl’s Bedroom: April (1892), oil on
3.7  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und canvas, 37.5 × 58.7 cm. Collection Kröller-
Leben: Childhood (1895), oil on canvas, 53 Müller, Otterlo, The Netherlands. Photo
× 147 cm. Presumed lost. Photograph credit: Catalogue raisonné Maurice
taken circa 1898. Photo credit: Catalogue Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-
3.16  Maurice Denis, Four Panels for a
Young Girl’s Bedroom: July (1892), oil on
3.8  Maurice Denis, Frauenliebe und canvas, 38 × 60 cm. Fondation Rau pour
Leben: Childhood, installed in the dining le Tiers-Monde, Zürich. Photo credit:
room of Harry Kessler’s apartment (after Catalogue raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-
1904), Weimar, Germany. Photo credit: Germain-en-Laye
Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY
3.17  Maurice Denis, sketch for
3.9  Félix Vallotton, To Richard Wagner Frauenliebe und Leben: Engagement Wreath
(1891), xylograph on vellum, plate 19.5 (1895), charcoal and gouache on paper,
42.7 × 139 cm. Musée Maurice Denis,
× 13.8 cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de
France, Département des Estampes et de
la photographie, Paris 3.18  Maurice Denis, sketch for
Frauenliebe und Leben: Marriage (1895),
3.10  Félix Vallotton, To Schumann
charcoal and gouache on paper, 45 ×
(1893), woodcut, 15.3 × 12.4 cm.
134 cm. Musée Maurice Denis, Saint-
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
3.11  Henri Fantin-Latour, A Piece by
3.19  Fra Angelico, Annunciation (circa
Schumann (1864), etching, 18.7 × 27.7 cm.
1440–45), fresco, 230 × 297 cm. Museo
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada.
di San Marco, Florence. Photo credit:
Photo © National Gallery of Canada/
Nimatallah/Art Resource, NY
Canadian Museum of Contemporary
Photography 3.20  Carlos Schwabe, poster for the
First Salon de la Rose + Croix (1892),
3.12  Fernand Khnopff, Listening to lithograph, 198 × 80.5 cm. Bibliothèque
Schumann (1883), oil on canvas, 101.5 × Nationale de France, Paris
116.5 cm. Brussels, Musées Royaux des
Beaux-Arts de Belgique 3.21  James Tissot, The Life of Our Lord
Jesus Christ: The Young Rich Man Who
3.13  Maurice Denis, Four Panels for a Went Away Sorrowful (circa 1886–96),
Young Girl’s Bedroom: September (1891), opaque watercolor over graphite on gray
oil on canvas, 38 × 61 cm. Musée des Arts wove paper, 12.5 × 18.7 cm. Brooklyn
Décoratifs, Paris. Photo credit: Catalogue Museum, New York, 00.159.159.
raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain- Purchased by public subscription
3.22  Maurice Denis, Trinitarian Evening
3.14  Maurice Denis, Four Panels for (1891), oil on canvas, 105 × 72 cm. Private
a Young Girl’s Bedroom: October (1891), collection. Photo credit: Catalogue
list of illustrations xiii

raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain- 4.3  Edouard Vuillard, Album: Tapestry

en-Laye (Embroidery) (1895), oil on canvas, 176 ×
65 cm. New York, Museum of Modern
3.23  Maurice Denis, illustration for Art, John Hay Whitney Collection. Photo
L’Imitation de Jésus Christ (1894–1903), credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
wood engraving after drawing by Denis,
30 × 25 cm. Bibliothèque Nationale de 4.4  Edouard Vuillard, Album: Striped
France, Paris Blouse (1895), oil on canvas, 65 × 58 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC,
3.24  Paul Gauguin, The Vision After the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.
Sermon (1888), oil on canvas, 72.2 × 91 cm. Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh,
Scotland. Photo credit: Art Resource, NY 4.5  Edouard Vuillard, Album: Vanity
Table (1895), oil on canvas, 65 × 116 cm.
3.25  Odilon Redon, The Fairy (Profile of Private collection. Photo credit: Vuillard
Light) (1882), charcoal and black chalk Archive, Paris
on paper, 35.9 × 26 cm. Louise Reinhardt
Smith Bequest. The Museum of Modern 4.6  Edouard Vuillard, Album: Stoneware
Art, New York. Digital image © The Vase (1895), oil on canvas, 65 × 116 cm.
Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by Private collection. Photo credit: Vuillard
SCALA/Art Resource, NY Archive, Paris

3.26  Maurice Denis, Crucifixion (1903), 4.7  Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s
oil on canvas, 148 × 88 cm. Sacred Heart house in Auteuil, France. Grand salon
Chapel, Sainte-Marguerite du Vésinet. with fireplace. Bibliothèque Nationale de
Photo credit: © Ile de France, Inventaire France, Paris
général du patrimoine culturel. Photo
credit: J.B. Vialles 4.8  Rudolf Alexandre Schröder,
upholstered chairs for A.W. Heymel’s
apartment, Munich, Germany.
4  Two Versions of the Photographed and published in Julius
Gesamtkunstwerk: The Nabis and the Meier-Graefe, ‘Ein modernes Milieu,’
Art Nouveau Interior Dekorative Kunst, Year 4, vol. 8, no. 7
(1901), page 261
4.1  Dining room at Siegfried Bing’s
1895 Salon de l’Art Nouveau, rue de 4.9  Henry van de Velde, Woman at the
Provence and rue Chauchat, Paris. Window (1889), oil on canvas, 114 × 128
Furniture by Henry van de Velde, cm. Anvers, Musée Royal des Beaux-
painted murals by Paul Ranson, and Arts. © Lukas – Art in Flanders VZW. ©
table service by Edouard Vuillard. DAF/ 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine/ York/SABAM, Brussels
Archives d’architecture du XXe siècle.
Cliché E. Pourchet, Paris. © 2010 Artists 4.10  Henry van de Velde, Summer
Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Garden (1892), oil on canvas, 172 × 67.5
Brussels cm. Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum, Hagen.
Photo: Friedrich Rosenstil, Cologne. ©
4.2  Henry van de Velde’s wife, Maria 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
Sèthe, posing in Bloemenwerf, Uccle, York/SABAM, Brussels
Belgium. Photo taken between 1898 and
1900 and published in Dekorative Kunst 8 4.11  Henry van de Velde, Angel’s
(1901), page 35 Watch (1893), wool and silk embroidery,
xiv the nabis and intimate modernism

140 × 233 cm. Museum für Gestaltung College Museum of Art, Northampton,
Zürich, Kunstgewerbesammlung. Massachusetts. Purchased with the
Photo: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Drayton Hillyer Fund
Kunstgewerbesammlung. Marlen Perez
© ZHdK. © 2010 Artists Rights Society 4.19  Anonymous, Seignorial Life:
(ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels Embroidery (16th century, Southern
Netherlands), wool and silk tapestry,
4.12  Henry van de Velde and Georges 265 × 224 cm. Musée National du
Lemmen, smoking room exhibited at Moyen Age-Thermes de Cluny, Paris.
Siegfried Bing’s 1895 Salon de l’Art Inv. Cl.2181. Photo: Franck Raux. Photo
Nouveau, Paris. Photographed and credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/
published in Dekorative Kunst, Year 1, vol. Art Resource, NY
3, no. 1 (1898–99), page 19. © 2010 Artists
Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM,
5  The Art of Reverie: Vuillard’s
Vaquez Decoration and the Nabis’
4.13  Maurice Denis, Regattas at Perros- Critical Legacy
Guirec (1892), oil on canvas, 41 × 32 cm.
5.1  Office of Léon Ginain, as reproduced
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on deposit at the
in ‘Les Maîtres de l’architecture française.
Musée de Quimper, France. Photo credit:
Académie des Beaux-Arts. M. Léon
Catalogue raisonné Maurice Denis, Saint-
Ginain,’ La Construction moderne (11 May
1895), page 374. Bibliothèque Nationale
4.14  Maurice Denis, Pink Boats (1893), de France, Paris
wallpaper design, gouache on paper
5.2  Edouard Vuillard, Théodore
glued to cardboard, 79 × 50 cm. Musée
Duret in His Study (1912), oil on board
Départemental Maurice Denis ‘Le
mounted on cradled panel, 95 × 74.5 cm.
Prieuré,’ Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Washington DC, National Gallery of Art,
4.15  Edouard Vuillard, dinner plate Chester Dale Collection. Photo credit:
exhibited at Siegfried Bing’s 1895 Vuillard Archive, Paris
Salon de l’Art Nouveau. Porcelain,
5.3  Edouard Vuillard, Interior (Marie
24.5 cm (diameter). Loan number: TR
Leaning Over Her Work) (1892–93), oil on
10444. Private collection. Photo credit:
board mounted on cradled panel, 23.2
Indianapolis Museum of Art
× 34.3 cm. Yale University Art Gallery,
4.16  Edouard Vuillard, Chestnut Trees New Haven, Connecticut. Bequest of
(1894–95), cartoon for a stained-glass Edith Malvina K. Wetmore. Photo credit:
window commissioned by Siegfried Yale University Art Gallery and Vuillard
Bing. Distemper on cardboard glued to Archive, Paris
canvas, 110 × 70 cm. Private collection.
5.4  Edouard Vuillard, Madame Vuillard
Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Paris
Reading the Newspaper (1898), oil on board
4.17  Central floor plan of Bing’s Galerie mounted on cradled panel, 32.2 × 53.3
de l’Art Nouveau, 22 rue de Provence cm. The Phillips Collection, Washington
and 19 rue Chauchat, 3 July 1895. DC. Photo credit: The Phillips Collection,
Archives de Paris, 1Fi 1744 Washington DC, and the Vuillard
Archive, Paris
4.18  Edouard Vuillard, Interior with
Work Table (The Suitor) (1893), oil on 5.5  Edgar Degas, Resting (Repos) (1876–
millboard panel, 31.75 × 36.35 cm. Smith 77), monotype in black ink on China
list of illustrations xv

paper, 16.4 × 21.6 cm. Musée Picasso, in the conservatory of the Hohenhof
Paris. Photo credit: Réunion des Musées house, Hagen, Germany. Photo credit:
Nationaux/Art Resource, NY Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY. © 2010
Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights
5.6  Edouard Vuillard, Schopfer Society (ARS), New York
Decoration. Woman Reading on a Bench
(1898), distemper on canvas, 214 × 161 6.4  Ferdinand Hodler, The Chosen
cm. Private collection. Photo credit: One (1890–1900), tempera, 220 × 300
Vuillard Archive, Paris cm, installed in the sitting room of the
Hohenhof house, Hagen, Germany.
5.7  Edouard Vuillard, Schopfer Photo credit: Foto Marburg/Art
Decoration. Woman Seated in a Garden Resource, NY. © 2010 Artists Rights
(1898), distemper on canvas, 214 × 161 Society (ARS), New York/SABAM,
cm. Private collection. Photo credit: Brussels
Vuillard Archive, Paris
6.5  Edouard Vuillard, Promenade
5.8  Edouard Vuillard, Luncheon at (1900), oil on canvas, 260.4 × 248.9 cm,
Vasouy (1901), distemper on canvas, left installed (1907) in the living room of
half, 218 × 182 cm. National Gallery, the Hohenhof house, Hagen, Germany.
London. Photo credit: Vuillard Archive, Photo credit: Foto Marburg/Art
Paris Resource, NY
5.9  Edouard Vuillard, Luncheon at 6.6  Conservatory of the Hohenhof
Vasouy (1901), distemper on canvas, right house (1906–08) with Matisse’s ceramic
half, 218 × 182 cm. National Gallery, triptych, Hagen, Germany. Photo credit:
London. Photo credit: Vuillard Archive,
Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY. © 2010
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/
SABAM, Brussels. © 2010 Succession H.
Conclusion: An Armchair Aesthetic: Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS),
From the Nabis to Matisse New York
and Beyond
6.7  Winding walk with steps leading
6.1  Henri Matisse, Harmony in Red from the veranda to the sunken garden,
(1908), oil on canvas, 180 × 220 cm. Hohenhof house, Hagen, Germany.
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Author’s photograph. © 2010 Artists
Petersburg. © 2010 Succession H. Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM,
Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), Brussels
New York
6.8  Main staircase in the Hohenhof
6.2  Henry van de Velde, Hohenhof house (1906–08), Hagen, Germany.
house (south façade) (1906–08), Hagen, Photo credit: Foto Marburg/Art
Germany. Photo credit: Foto Marburg/ Resource, NY. © 2010 Artists Rights
Art Resource, NY. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM,
Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels
6.9  Henri Matisse, Dance (1910), oil
6.3  Henri Matisse, Tile Triptych (Nymph on canvas, 260 × 391 cm. The State
and Satyr) (1907), painted and glazed Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
ceramic tiles, left to right, 58.5 × 39.9 © 2010 Succession H. Matisse/Artists
cm, 56.6 × 67 cm, 57 × 38 cm, installed Rights Society (ARS), New York
xvi the nabis and intimate modernism

6.10  Henri Matisse, Music (1910), 6.11  Henri Matisse, Composition II

oil on canvas, 260 × 389 cm. The (Bathers) (circa 1909–10), watercolor
State Hermitage Museum, St. and ink, 21.5 × 29.2 cm. State Pushkin
Petersburg. © 2010 Succession H. Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. © 2010
Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights
New York Society (ARS), New York

In writing this book I have incurred many debts to institutions and

individuals. A Fulbright Grant, a Dedalus Dissertation Fellowship, and a
Chateaubriand Fellowship funded several years of research in France. A
Department Dissertation Fellowship from the University of California at
Berkeley’s History of Art Department enabled me to complete a first draft of
the project, which I subsequently revised and expanded with the assistance
of Project Grants from Wesleyan University and a Faculty Fellowship
at Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities. The final stage of gathering
illustrations for publication was greatly eased by a generous Publications
Assistance Grant from Wesleyan University.
My work on the Nabis began in a graduate seminar with T.J. Clark at
the University of California at Berkeley, and I am greatly indebted to his
continued enthusiasm and support for this project. Clark gave me free rein
to develop as a scholar while providing valuable advice at critical junctures,
including reading a full draft of the book manuscript. Clark’s intellectual
generosity as well as his own powerful work on modernism has informed
this project at every turn.
This project would never have been written were it not for the pioneering
work of Jean-Paul Bouillon and Gloria Groom. Bouillon’s rigorous editions
and interpretations of Denis’s critical writings have established these texts
as major documents in the study of modern art. Groom’s writings have
elucidated the terms of the Nabis’ decorative commissions, provided
essential information about their patrons, and recovered the paintings’
original installations. Her archival work has shaped our understanding
of the social networks that brought these paintings into existence. Both
Bouillon and Groom have been extremely generous in offering practical
research advice as well as in reading drafts of my manuscript.
Numerous other colleagues and friends have read and commented on
this manuscript, and their clear-headed advice and moral support have been
greatly appreciated. Kathleen James did the most to help me conceive of this
project as a book, and her heroic editing will be remembered for years to
come. André Dombrowski provided essential advice and encouragement,
xviii the nabis and intimate modernism

and crucial elements of this project came together during the symposium
‘Towards a Synaesthetic Modernity,’ that we co-organized in the spring of
2007. Timothy Barringer, Juliet Koss, and Debora Silverman asked questions
at that symposium that were particularly helpful in shaping Chapter 2. My
colleague Joseph Siry commented thoughtfully on numerous drafts of this
manuscript, and he provided a rock of stability during periods of revision
and reorganization. Jenny Anger read a draft of Chapter 4 and generously
shared her research and thoughts on the decorative. Rossella Froissart-
Pezone also shared with me her extensive knowledge of the decorative,
and pointed me in the direction of several key sources. Aruna D’Souza read
an entire draft of my manuscript, and her questioning led me to sharpen
my argumentation and connect it to trends in recent scholarship. Two
anonymous readers’ reports from Ashgate were extremely helpful in their
rigor and thoroughness. I know that this book is better for them.
Portions of this book were presented in the form of invited talks at the
Association of Art Historians, the College Art Association, the Musée d’Orsay,
Smith College, Wesleyan University, and Yale University. My project benefited
substantially from questions and conversations initiated at these institutions.
My thanks go to Patrizia di Bello, Jean-Paul Bouillon, Edward Cooke, André
Dombrowski, Gloria Groom, and Gabriel Koureas for inviting me to share
my research. My colleagues at Wesleyan University, especially Clark Maines,
Yonatan Malin, John Paoletti, Clare Rogan, Philip Wagoner, and Sarah Wiliarty
offered me their keen insights and helped me keep the project in perspective.
My students at Wesleyan, especially Christopher Gartrell, Sarah Leonard, and
Adam Rizzo, have learned more about the Nabis than they ever wanted, and
their questions and enthusiasm have nourished this project.
Staff at libraries and archives aided the research and publication phases
of this project. Maire El Caïdi at the Musée Maurice Denis in Saint-Germain-
en-Laye was extremely accessible and responsive, and made working at the
archive a pleasurable experience. Claire Denis generously provided me with
essential documentation and images. Mathias Chivot at the Vuillard archive
was indispensable in helping me secure images for publication. I am also
indebted to Andrea Sinzel at the Karl Ernst Osthaus archive in Hagen for
bringing key documents to my attention. The staff at Wesleyan’s Interlibrary
Loan Office found just about every source I requested; Carol Kearney and
Rhonda York provided much-appreciated administrative assistance, and
Susan Passman and Nara Giannella helped with digital images. I am also
indebted to the staff at the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Bibliothèque
Jacques Doucet in Paris, the Bibliothèque Albert Ier in Brussels, and the
Kunsthistorisches Institut and the Staatsbibliothek in Munich. My editors at
Ashgate, Erika Gaffney and Meredith Norwich, have done a wonderful job
of moving this project forward. Their enthusiasm and attention to the project
fueled its final stages.
My greatest debt of all goes to my family. My husband, Michael Printy, has
lived through every phase of this project, and has been a constant source of
acknowledgements xix

advice, patience, and wisdom. He read more drafts of my chapters than any
one should, stayed up for late-night discussions, and facilitated and supported
my work at every stage. Our two children, Oliver and Nora, arrived in the
middle of my writing, and have been incomparable sources of joy. Joan and
O’Neill Printy have helped with childcare and kept us from becoming starving
scholar-parents. Rudolf and Cecile Kuenzli, my parents, have believed in this
project since its inception, and have supported it materially, emotionally, and
intellectually. I dedicate the book to them.

‘All my life, I floated between intimism and decoration,’ Pierre Bonnard

once said.1 His association of intimacy with the decorative conjures up the
refined and well-appointed Parisian homes with which his group of artists,
the Nabis, is associated. The Nabis distinguished themselves between 1890
and 1900 as decorative painters for private patrons, and their reputation as
intimists has continued unabated to the present day. However, their very
success proved to be their undoing when the decorative and the domestic
became terms of derision in canonical formulations of modernism.2 This
study seeks to recover the intellectual seriousness and artistic ambition
underlying the Nabis’ practice of decoration, and argues for its crucial
importance to painterly modernism.
Intimacy was far from being a merely personal affair in the 1890s: for
the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé and his followers, it constituted
the grounds for forging an experience of totality. Previous generations
of artists had associated universality with grandiose public statements.
The size of a canvas, orchestra or poem stood in proportion to its author’s
ambition, and the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of works
of enormous length and physical proportion intended for increasingly
large audiences. In contrast, the Nabis joined Mallarmé in reversing the
equation between publicity and ambition. True knowledge, they believed,
could not be found in exterior appearances or actions, but was best arrived
at through introspection. Art was to enable an experience of psychological
intimacy that was characterized by the breakdown of boundaries between
self and other. The Nabis’ and Mallarmé’s valorization of introspection
led them to ground their search for meaning in private, enclosed spaces,
especially those of the domestic apartment. These artists detached the home
from its familial functions, and reinvented it as a space for reverie and
contemplation. Psychological interiority could not be directly represented,
artists believed, but could be evoked through a series of seductive formal
fragments. Accordingly, painters distorted nature to form a series of
allusive formal rhythms that awakened viewers’ intuition and provoked
in them feelings of expansiveness.
 the nabis and intimate modernism

0.1  Georges Not only ‘intimacy,’ but also the ‘decorative’ stood at the forefront of
Seurat, A Sunday artistic innovation in the 1890s as both a new idiom and an approach to
on the Grande
painting as an environment. Claude Monet exhibited his landmark series
Jatte (1884–86),
205.5 × 308.1 cm of haystacks and poplars in 1891, and these works were praised at the time
for their ‘decorative’ effect. Félix Fénéon and the Neo-Impressionists put
forward their own vision of decorative harmony in public murals, whether
Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on the Grande Jatte (1884–86, Figure 0.1) or Paul
Signac’s In the Time of Harmony (1895). In 1891, critic Albert Aurier celebrated
Paul Gauguin as a decorative painter and defined Symbolist painting as
above all ‘decorative.’ The 1890s were filled with tributes to the monumental
murals of Puvis de Chavannes, whom artists and critics alike hailed as
France’s greatest decorator.3
Far from marginal, the decorative represented the terrain upon which
artistic battles were waged in the wake of Impressionism. Artists who
practiced the decorative debated the nature of sensation and its role in
composition, as well as modern art’s relationship to a real or imagined public.
At stake in these debates was an attempt to restore an enduring character to
painting, to revise Impressionist spontaneity and directness in favor of more
deliberate arrangement. Art threatened to devolve into a form of journalism,
Nabi artist Maurice Denis cautioned fellow painter Edouard Vuillard in
1898.4 With these words he expressed real concern that art was becoming
too individualistic, too subjective, and too mercantile. Denis wrote at a time
when Impressionist painting was fetching relatively large sums on the art
0.2  Claude Monet, The Valley of the Creuse (Sunlight Effect) (1889), 65.1 × 92.4 cm.
Photograph © 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

0.3  Claude Monet, The Creuse Valley, Evening Effect (1889), 65 × 81 cm

 the nabis and intimate modernism

market. Such financial success, Denis believed, cheapened art’s intellectual

and aesthetic value. Buyers acted out of financial motivation and purchased
paintings on speculation, only to resell them when prices climbed. By
contrast, the Nabis conceived of art’s riches as above all spiritual, and they
constructed decorations as fixed ensembles, which eluded market forces.
Denis directed his criticism above all to the work of Claude Monet, who
famously associated Impressionism with the decorative in the 1880s in his
series paintings of the Creuse valley, as well as in his multiple views of Belle-
Isle and Antibes.5 In each series, Monet repeats the same motif and even
sometimes the same viewing position. What varies are the changing lighting
and atmospheric conditions, which lend the landscape an alternatively
lush or somber character (see Figures 0.2, 0.3). The ‘decorative,’ as it was
employed by Monet and his supporters, referred to the poetic character of
his canvases. His admirers praised how the artist did not recreate nature, but
instead made it the basis of dream-like visions. Loose, bravura brushwork
varies according to his subject matter and mood, and attests to his personal
and spontaneous approach to composition.
Vuillard’s nine-panel series Public Gardens (see Figures 0.4–0.9, Plate 1)
provides insight into the ways that the Nabis revised Monet’s take on the
decorative. Instead of repeating a single recognizable motif, as was Monet’s
practice, Vuillard constructs a generalized park space complete with
nursemaids and frolicking children across the multiple canvases that comprise
his decoration. He combines elements from several Parisian parks rather
than documenting a single location.6 And instead of conceiving of painting
as a window onto nature, Vuillard brings the profusion of nature into the
interior. He compresses pictorial space and lends natural forms a decidedly
artificial, stylized appearance. These distortions inevitably result in awkward
moments, such as in Asking Questions (see Figure 0.7) when a girl, who is
meant to be leaping and spinning in space, instead appears pinned to the
surface of the canvas, her body flattened into an illegible mass. However, these
odd moments are not an end, but a means of creating abstract, and essentially
soothing, harmonies of line and color. Vuillard’s paintings turn on a tension
between cultivating the specificity of individual sensation – capturing the
children’s impulsive movements and the lightness of the billowing clouds
– and abstracting nature through all-over patterning. The sandy park floor
and blooming chestnut trees consist of individual touches applied with the
precision of a miniaturist. Vuillard conveys his painstaking and deliberate
process of composition in an 1894 journal entry, in which he compares
painting to lace-making.7 However, his aims were by no means artisanal or
limited: like Seurat, whose canvases he admired, Vuillard, in his decorations,
adopts a more deliberate and disciplined approach to art-making in order to
lend individual sensation a more enduring character.
Ultimately, Vuillard’s painted environment is more stable and fixed
than Monet’s variable surfaces. Kermit Champa astutely observes that the
grouping of Monet’s series paintings together individualizes the paintings
0.4  Edouard Vuillard, 0.5  Edouard Vuillard,
Public Gardens: The Two Schoolboys Public Gardens: Under the Trees
(1894), 214 × 98 cm (1894), 214.2 × 96.3 cm
0.6  Edouard Vuillard, 0.7  Edouard Vuillard,
Public Gardens: Little Girls Playing Public Gardens: Asking Questions
(1894), 212 × 84 cm (1894), 212 × 96 cm
0.8  Edouard Vuillard, 0.9  Edouard Vuillard,
Public Gardens: The Promenade Public Gardens: First Steps
(1894), 214.3 × 97.2 cm (1894), 212 × 67 cm
 the nabis and intimate modernism

while at the same time producing a composite effect. Each painting represents
a discrete moment at the same time that it participates in a larger sequence.8
By contrast, Vuillard conceives his canvases as a single tableau. The panels
that comprise Public Gardens are not meant to be viewed sequentially,
but to constitute a single un-ending composition whose effects transcend
those of any particular place or moment. And rather than selling canvases
individually, Vuillard created his canvases as an unbroken ensemble for his
patrons, Alexandre and Olga Natanson, who permanently installed them in
their Parisian apartment.9
In its site-specificity, Public Gardens recalls the works of Pierre Puvis de
Chavannes and Paul Gauguin, who provided Vuillard with essential points of
reference, and yet Vuillard (and the Nabis generally speaking) went further
than their predecessors in redefining decorative painting’s structure, form,
and viewer relationship. In Public Gardens Vuillard departs from previous
decorative conventions in continuing a single composition across nine panels
in an effort to surround the viewer with repetitive rhythms of line and color.
His strategies of formal flattening and distortion recall those of Puvis de
Chavannes, but he rejects Puvis’s practice of composing decorations out of
discrete compositions with interlinked narratives. In Ancient Vision (1885,
see Figure 0.10) and Christian Inspiration (1886, see Figure 0.11), two murals
created for the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, Puvis signals the distinctness
of classical and medieval eras, whereas the Nabis create an all-over effect.
Although Puvis innovates formally in his Lyon murals, as Jennifer Shaw
has demonstrated, in other ways he continues to paint within a tradition of
narrative decorative cycles.10 Of course the Nabis interpreted Puvis’s painting
to serve their own interests, but their admiration for him did not result in
mere imitation. The Nabis never received the same public commissions
that made Puvis’s reputation, and the Beaux-Arts ministry was not alone in
perceiving a fundamental difference between Puvis’s decorations and those
of a younger generation. Significantly, Puvis never expressed any sympathy
for the Nabis’ accomplishments even though they worked at the very same
moment in Paris.
Unlike Puvis’s decorations, which were displayed in grand, public spaces,
the Nabis created their decorations in the 1890s almost exclusively for private
environments. Although they dreamed of one day creating public decorations,
they rejected both allegory and naturalist idioms, which were favored by the
Third Republic’s Beaux-Arts administration. Not only the Nabis’ idiom, but
also the sheer banality of their motifs sets them apart from official decoration.
By painting local parks and private interiors devoid of significant action, the
Nabis transgressed monumental painting conventions.11 In many ways, the
domestic sphere served the Nabis’ intentions: viewers were meant to come
close, to more fully enter into the work’s lulling rhythms, which they believed
could dissolve boundaries between painting and viewer, self and other.
The Nabis’ emphasis on everyday sensation and elaboration of a single
composition across multiple panels also sets their work apart from Gauguin’s
0.10  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Ancient Vision (1885), 460 × 578 cm

0.11  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Christian Interpretation (1886), 460 × 578 cm