The Adventure of Les Nabis

Discover the birth of a major artistic movement in the late 19th century, led by the young generation who made the precepts of Gauguin's painting their own.

After the summer of 1888, in Paris, artists from the Académie Julian united under the name of Les Nabis (a Hebrew term for prophets). Sérusier, Bonnard, Denis, Ranson, and Ibels were soon joined by Vuillard, Roussel, Verkade, Vallotton, and Lacombe. In "Le Talisman" (The Talisman, kept in the Orsay Museum) by Sérusier, painted following advice from Gauguin, in the Bois d’Amour in Pont-Aven, the group identified the aesthetic manifesto they intended to develop.

There were two positions, the first of which was sacred. This was led by Denis, who advocated a renewal of religious art, inspired by Gauguin's simplification of forms. Secondly, there was the secular position. This involved a range of modern-day life subjects and played with the juxtaposition of decorative motifs and unusual framings.

Colour Wheel (Fin XIXe-Début XXe) by Paul SERUSIERMuseum of Pont-Aven

Chromatic circle

Following his experiments with color with Les Nabis, Sérusier assembled several chromatic circles in order to find a basis for color harmony.

The Church at Saint-Nolff (Vers 1892) by Mogens BALLINMuseum of Pont-Aven

A Danish painter joins Les Nabis

This modestly-scaled piece was painted with subdued tones, using a reduced palette accented by shades of black.

The shapes are simplified, in line with the style of the Pont-Aven School.

Jan Verkade introduced Ballin into the Les Nabis circle. Following the advice of Paul Sérusier, he traveled to Pont-Aven, and then to Huelgoat.

The composition is illuminated at its center by the white of the church. It is a view of Saint-Nolff, an area of Morbihan, where Ballin vacationed with Verkade over the summer of 1892.

The Three Bathers (1894) by Félix VALLOTTONMuseum of Pont-Aven

Les Trois Baigneuses (The Three Bathers) by Félix Vallotton

This xylograph was published in 1894 in La Revue Blanche, a literature and arts review with anarchic tendencies, published from 1889 to 1903.

This journal contributed greatly to spreading the word about the Les Nabis art. Vallotton was one of its most frequent contributors.

Cows, Cuno AMIET, 1893/1893, From the collection of: Museum of Pont-Aven
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Breton Woman with Jug, Cuno AMIET, 1893/1893, From the collection of: Museum of Pont-Aven
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Amiet first studied in his native Switzerland before training in Munich and then at the Académie Julian in Paris. There he met the artists from Les Nabis. He then spent May 1892 through June 1893 in Pont-Aven, at the Gloanec guest house, where he became friends with O’Conor and Seguin.

Breton Man Holding a Child (Vers 1894) by Georges LACOMBEMuseum of Pont-Aven

The influence of Georges Lacombe (1868 - Versailles / 1916 Alençon) was significant in the Nabis art: the work is imbued with mystery and painted with circular blocks of color.

This piece is one of the rare paintings completed in Brittany, where Lacombe stayed between 1888 and 1897, mostly in Camaret on the southern coast.

Cave at Camaret (Vers 1890-1897) by Georges LACOMBEMuseum of Pont-Aven

Through his symbolic subjects, his taste for decoration, and his pictorial technique, Lacombe joined the Pont-Aven movement for all his Brittany vacations.

Through his friend Paul Sérusier, he adopted the aesthetic of the Pont-Aven group and became a Nabis sculpteur (Nabis sculptor).

Here, rocks create curves, and volutes cover the interior of a cave. In the background, we can see the sea, which glistens in lively green topped with sea foam.

Permanent collection Nabis room (2016/2016) by Musée de Pont-AvenMuseum of Pont-Aven

The museum has dedicated one of its rooms to Les Nabis, exhibiting several paintings by these artists.

Figures at the Green Window, Perros-Guirec, Maurice DENIS, Vers 1897, From the collection of: Museum of Pont-Aven
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Bathers at Port-Blanc (1925/1925) by Maurice DENISMuseum of Pont-Aven

In this seaside scene, three female bathers are swimming, revealing their naked bodies to the viewer. Meanwhile, two other women are standing, with the lower halves of their bodies masked by imposing granite rocks.

The sea is omnipresent, in a clear and luminous blue hue, contrasting with the pink rocks that surround it. White strokes on the surface of the water represent the waves.

Maurice Denis discovered Perros-Guirec in around 1886. He began spending his summers there after he acquired the Villa Silencio, in 1908. This harmonious, tranquil work depicts the harbor of Port-Blanc (Côtes-d'Armor), not far from Perros-Guirec.

The repeated motif brings a decorative dimension to the work.

Mother and Child at Le Pouldu, Evening Light (1899/1899) by Maurice DENISMuseum of Pont-Aven

Motherhood in Le Pouldu

This painting depicts a family scene, painted during a vacation at the Portier guest house in Le Pouldu in 1899. 

Martha, his wife, and their youngest daughter Bernadette, are in the center, surrounded by Martha's sister Eva and their eldest daughter Noële.

Credits: Story

Contributors:
Sophie Kervran, director and curator of museums
Camille Armandary, in charge of exhibitions and communication

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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