Artist: Maurice Denis (French, Granville 1870–1943 Saint-Germain-en-Laye)
Date: ca. 1894–99
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 31 3/4 x 38 1/2 in. (80.6 x 97.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of David Allen Devrishian, 1999
Accession Number: 1999.180.2a,b
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.