Maurice Denis

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Denis, 1921: 'Self-portrait, in front of the Priory', oil-painting

Maurice Denis (25 November 1870 - 13 November 1943) was a French painter, decorative artist and writer, who was an important figure in the transitional period between Impressionism and modern art. Denis was associated with Les Nabis, then the French Symbolist movement with a return to neo-classicism.

Quotes of Maurice Denis

chronologically arranged, after date of Maurice Denis' quotes
Denis, 1889: 'climb to the Calvary', painting
Denis, 1890: 'Motif Romanesque', painting; - quote of Denis, 1890: 'Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors..'
Denis, 1900: 'Moses, saved from the water', oil-painting
Denis, 1903-06: 'Boat to Saint Breton / Portrait of fr:Albert Clouard in Saint'oil-painting
Denis, between 1914 and 1930: 'Roundel with St Louis', mural, illustrating the cardinal virtue of Justice, in the choir of the St. Louis Chapel of the Priory

1890 - 1920

  • Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.
  • The profoundness of our emotions comes from the sufficiency of these lines and these colors to explain themselves.. ..everything is contained in the beauty of the work.
    • Quote 1890, from Denis' essay published in the review 'Art et Critique'; as cited on Wikipedia: Maurice Denis - reference [13]
    • In August 1890, Denis consolidated his new ideas and presented them in a famous essay published in the review 'Art et Critique'. In his essay, he termed the new movement 'neo-traditionaism', in opposition to the 'progressism' of the Neo-impressionists, led by Seurat
  • Art remains a sure refuge, the hope of a reason in life from now on, and the consoling thought that little beauty manifests itself in our lives, and that we are continuing the work of Creation.. .Therefore the work of art has merit, inscribed in the marvelous beauty of flowers, of light, in the proportion of trees and shape of waves, and the perfection of faces; to inscribe our poor and lamentable life of suffering, of hope and of thought.
  • Think of late paintings where Christ is the central figure.. .Remember the large mosaics of Rome. Reconcile the employment of large-scale decorative means and the direct emotions of nature.
  • ..the classical aesthetic offers us at the same time a method of thinking and a method of wanting to be, a moral and at the same time a psychology.. .The classical tradition as a whole, by the logic of the effort and the greatness of results, is in some way parallel with the religious tradition of humanity.
    • Quote from Denis's essay 'Les Arts a Rome', 1898; as cited on Wikipedia: Maurice Denis - reference [22]
    • Denis made Jan. 1895 his first visit to Rome, where the works of Raphael and Michaelangelo in the Vatican made a strong impression upon him.
  • The common error of us all [in late Impressionism] was to search above all for the light. It would have been better first to search for the Kingdom of God and his justice, that is to say for the expression of our spirit in beauty, and the rest would have arrived naturally.
  • Art is the sanctification of the nature, of that nature found in everyone who is content to live.
  • To synthesize is not necessarily to simplify in the sense of suppressing certain parts of the object: it is to simplify in the sense of rendering intelligible. It is, in short, to put in hierarchic order: to set each picture to a single rhythm, to a dominant; it is sacrifice, to subordinate — to generalize.
    • Quote, 1907 from Denis' text 'Synthetism'; as cited in Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, Herschel Browning Chipp, ‎Peter Selz - 1968, p. 105
  • Art is no longer a visual sensation that we gather, like a photograph, as it were, of nature. No, it is a creation of our spirit, for which nature is only the occasion.
  • What amazement, followed by what a revelation! In place of windows opening on nature, like the impressionists, these were surfaces which were solidly decorative, powerfully colorful, bordered with brutal strokes, partitioned.
    • Quote of Denis, 1909: from Bouillon 2006, pp. 17-18; as cited on Wikipedia: Maurice Denis - reference [9]
    • In 1889, Denis was captivated by an exposition of works of Paul Gauguin and his friends at the Cafe Volponi, on the edge of the Paris Universal Exposition, that year

1921 and later

  • The sublime is to approach the subject or wall with an attitude that is grand, noble, and in no way petty..
  • Don't lose sight of the essential objectives of painting, which are expression, emotion, delectation; to understand the means, to paint decoratively, to exalt form and color.

Nouvelles théories sur l'art moderne..., 1922

Quotes from: Nouvelles théories sur l'art moderne, sur l'art sacré, 1922 (New Theories of Modern and Sacred Art)
  • ..Every work of art is a transposition,a caricature,the passionate equivalent of a sensation received.
  • I believe that art should sanctify nature.
  • Painting is first of all the art of imitation, and not the servant of some imaginary 'purity'
  • Art is no longer a purely visual experience.. is a work of our intellect triggered by nature.. ..the imagination again become the queen of our strengths and we liberate our sensitivity.
  • Decorative and edifying. That is what I want art to be before anything else.
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