Maurice Denis (French, Granville 1870–1943 Saint-Germain-en-Laye)

ca. 1897
Oil on canvas
31 3/4 x 38 1/2 in. (80.6 x 97.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of David Allen Devrishian, 1999
Accession Number:
  • Description

    With Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard, Denis was a founding member of the Nabis group in France, active from 1888 to 1899. Denis, the group's spiritual leader and chief theoretician, called for a new pictorial language in response to the rhythms of nature. In date and sensibility, his work bridges the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and as shown here, he had a firm grasp on modernist thought. He once said, "Remember that a picture, before being a war horse, a female nude, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order."

    Springtime, a double-sided canvas, describes a purification scene set deep in the forest of Saint-Germain, near Paris. Several pairs of young women-representing the sacred and the profane-blend into a bucolic landscape where one of them stands nude in a stream. Denis draws a parallel between the flowering sapling in the center (a symbol of spring, renewal, and Easter) and the maidens.

    The composition is a study for a larger, more realistic painting of 1899 (Virginal Printemps), and in 1908 was the basis for a wall decoration. Until now, the Museum owned prints and illustrated books by Denis but no paintings, a gap filled by this gift.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: monogram (lower right): (upside down capital W over inverted triangle in a circle -- refer to worksheet).

  • Provenance

    The artist; [Ambroise Vollard, Paris]; private collection, France; [Brame & Lorenceau, Paris, until 1999]

  • Exhibition History

    Osaka: National Museum of Art. Art Nouveau in Paintings - Europe and Japan, 1980,
    cat. no. 8.

    Private View: A Selection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Drawings, Watercolours, Pastels and Paintings, Nineteenth and Twentieth Century French Sculpture. London: JPL Fine Arts, Nov 23, 1988 – Jan 27, 1989. Cat. no. 46, p. 76 (titled: Virginal Printemps; dated ca. 1894); verso illustrated in black and white p. 76, recto illustrated in color p. 77

    Maurice Denis. Paris: Galerie La Cave, n.d. (ca. 1980-88?). Cat. no. 23 (have not verified information; exhibition listed in 1988-89 JPL Fine Arts Private View catalogue)

    Paris: Huguette Beres, Au temps de Nabis, 1990, cat. no. 51.

    Paris: Huguette Beres, 1992, cat. no. 48 , illustrated ("a" in color; "b" in black and white),np. (titled: Virginal Spring).

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Painters in Paris 1895 - 1950, March 8 -
    December 31, 2000, p. 58, illustrated in color.

    Kyoto,Japan: Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, September 14-November 24, 2002; Tokyo: The Bunkamura Museum of Art, December 7, 2000 - March 9, 2003, Picasso and the School of Paris, Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. plate 2, p. 31, illus. in color.

  • References

    Bouillon, Jean-Paul. Maurice Denis. Geneva, 1993, pp.90-91 and 117.

    Maurice Denis 1870-1943. Exh. cat. Paris: Huguette Beres, 1992, cat. no. 48, illustrated ("a" in color; "b" in black and white), n.p. (titled Virginal Printemps)

    Au temps des Nabis. Exh. cat. Paris: Huguette Beres, 1990, cat. no. 51.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History