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Maternity Maurice Denis


Maurice Denis Granville, 1870 – Paris, 1943

Date 1895
Object type painting
Medium, technique oil on canvas

81 x 65 cm

Inventory number 401.B
Collection Department of Art after 1800
On view This artwork is on view at the permanent exhibition

Maurice Denis was a co-founder of Les Nabis in 1888, and he was also their principal theorist. The word nabi means “prophet” in Hebrew; the members of this group saw themselves as prophets of a new kind of mystical and ornamental art, which rejected the teachings of Impressionism. In this work Denis immortalised his young wife, Marthe, suckling their first-born son – an image which resembles a secular Madonna. The close-cut image and the lack of pictorial depth intensify the sense of intimacy, creating a unified and harmonious group consisting of the family and the neighbour girl who has popped over to visit the baby. This picture bears the uniform, flat planes of colour and the strong contours which so characterised the aestheticism of Les Nabis. The palette is soft and subdued – out of the dark background emerges the bright patch which is Marthe’s dress, with its arabesque pleats echoing the stylised, reddish brown curls of her hair. The tragedy of fate would make this painting a heart-wrenching memorial to the blessed period of maternal bliss: not long after it was painted, the baby Jean-Paul died, at a mere few months of age.

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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