04 May 2023

Maurice Denis, finds simplicity and grace in this painting

I have always loved this painting! But curiously I have never really be a fan of Maurice Denis who was one of the Les Nabis, the group whose more notable members included both Eduard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. He was certainly prolific but so much of his grand figurative works has always seemed a little confusing to me. 
Les Nabis (according to Professor Google) comes from the Hebrew and Arab term for Prophets. I had always understand that they were interested in Symbolism and the Occult which is why I always assumed that both Vuillard and Bonnard, who were the truly great painters in this collective, fled the group to follow their own paths to glory.

But anyway, this wonderful picture above is a gem I think. And it's precisely so because it holds a vision that really opens up outwardly through the window of nature by abstract visual means unlike the conceptual approach prescribed by Les Nabis

I like it so much not just because it works, but also because it captures that lonely and somewhat poetic winter moment, a particular instant when one finds oneself in a darkening valley chill and separated from the last bit of sun just out of reach in the Western sky. When a painting is specific but not sentimental, it's an achievement. But it's also special because it evokes nostalgic memories from the France of my youth where scenes like this were commonplace. 

In this painting is a composition of a set of farmhouses and small road all lit up together in contre-jour against a dark, earthy landscape of warm pale hue. It's a strange sort of motif, almost a bit wonky but very original. I like it’s unique drawing which is in fact at the root of it’s originality. Something in the buildings tells me that it was done somewhere in the north. The cedar trees(?) or perhaps they are cypress trees, all woolly and unkept, climbing in a straight line to the top of the ridge. The four blue, thin clouds above, appear to be the only 'cool' colours in the whole composition of an otherwise bland warmth. The yellow sky in this pictorial context should almost feel exuberant but it doesn't really, it's a winter sky all the same and it speaks to the cold night coming swiftly. 

The following idea has been attributed to Denis one which I had never seen before but like very much. It's a frank description of Modernity in a Painting world before it became captive to the Contextual prison in which much of the Art World has become trapped.

“A painting — before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote — is essentially a flat surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order.”

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