French English


"Bonnard, Vuillard, Roussel, Denis, and Vallotton have entered into the history of art as artists who were members of the same group, regardless of the differences which separated them [...] Their youth saw them reunited by the same affiliation to this group under the unusual name of ‘nabi’ (from the Hebrew neblim, prophet)."

"How do you see these trees? They are yellow. So, put in yellow;
this shadow, rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine; these red leaves?
Put in vermilion."

Gauguin to Sérusier.

Paul Sérusier

Paul Sérusier,
The Talisman, 1888.
Oil on canvas, 27 x 21.5 cm.
Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

While the Impressionists were painters of the concrete and living, they were still rooted in the illusionistic aspect of nature. The Nabis, by contrast, distanced themselves from Impressionistic modes by painting objects and scenes in stark uniform hues, rather than a variation of colours, thereby simplifying and galvanising their palettes.

The nabi movement began at the Académie Julian in Paris, around 1888. Paul Sérusier, the centre of attraction, was remarkably cultured and assembled all the members of the group around him. The most gifted students of the school, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Édouard Vuillard in the first instance, gathered around him. They met in the small restaurant, l’Os à moelle, and also in the offices of journals such as La Revue blanche and Le Mercure de France, but most often they met in Paul Ranson’s studio, which they dubbed The Temple. They corresponded in their own language, incomprehensible to the uninitiated, and gave one another nicknames: Sérusier was the Nabi with the Sparkling Beard, Bonnard was the Highly Nipponised Nabi, Denis was the Nabi of Beautiful Icons, Verkade was the Nabi-Obelisk, Vuillard was the Zouave Nabi and, finally, Vallotton was the Foreign Nabi.


Félix Vallotton,
The Five Painters, 1903.
Kunstmuseum Wintherthur, Wintherthur.
Standing on the left, Félix Vallotton, and on the right, Ker-Xavier Roussel.
Seated, from left to right : Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Charles Cottet.

It is difficult to know exactly when Félix Vallotton officially joined the movement. He exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants with the Nabis from 1892, and from 1893 he published engravings in La Revue Blanche, which broadcast the ideas and the aesthetic of the Nabis.

Leur objectif premier est de désacraliser le statut de l’Artiste en pratiquant toutes les formes d’art, même celles jugées mineures ; la tapisserie, la mosaïque, le mobilier, la céramique, l’illustration et les décors de théâtre. Les Nabis refusent le réalisme et recherchent la simplification des formes et des couleurs. Ils n’ont pas de style collectif ; chaque membre du groupe a ses propres conditions stylistiques, idéologiques ou religieuses. Deux « partis » se forment dès l’existence du groupe : Sérusier, Denis et Verkade souhaitent s’engager à la suite de Gauguin et du Moyen-âge, alors que Bonnard, Vallotton et Vuillard se sentaient plus proches de Degas et des estampes japonaises.

Friends above all, the Nabis continued to spend time together after the dissolution of the movement around 1900, when each decided to follow his own path.

Paul Sérusier

Paul Sérusier
Two Breton Women under a Flowering Apple Tree.
Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 60.5 cm.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

Édouard Vuillard

Édouard Vuillard
Public Gardens: Nannies, 1894.
Tempera on canvas, 213.5 x 73 cm.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris.© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

"A period in the history of painting was finished, which they stamped with their mark and filled with their elegance.”

Antoine Terrasse.

© 2013 by Confidential Concepts US.