"Remember a painting before it is... a nude or some anectode or other, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order"
Maurice Denis 1890
|Sérusier - On the holy-wood / 1891|
The secret brotherhood of Nabis was founded in 1888 by French artists and theoriticians Maurice Denis and Paul Sérusier as a rejection to acedemicism. Pierre Bonnard, Paul Ranson and Henri-Gabriel Ibels were the other original members. Other then them there were passionate young artists from Académie Julian in Paris since they were not inspirated with the phptgraphic naturalism there. A spiritual element existed in the ideas and practices of the Les Nabis wave. Moreover; the formation of a secret brotherhood connected them to previous groups of resistant/rebellious artists, such as the "Nazarenes" in Germany and Pre-Raphaelites in England.
Paul Gauguin was the most important mentor of the Nabis, and Séusier's account of a morning's painting under Gauguin in the Bois d'Amour woods in the summer of 1888i vividly describes the "Synthetist" effect on the improvement of Nabi practices. Following Gauguin's leads and advices Séusier finished the painting and showed it to the group. It seemed so original and daring that they believed it had mystical powers.
|Maurice Denis - Homage to Cézanne / 1900|
Les Nabis began to organise meetings to discuss three main topics: "the scientific and mystical bases of art", "the social implications", "the desirability of a synthesis of the arts" Not only Gauguin but also Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne samples were drawed to understand the previous generations leading artists better.
The first Nabi group exhibition, organized by Denis, was held in 1891 at the chateau of St Germain-en-Laye. The majority of Nabis were included in the exhibition held at Le Barc de Boutteville,Paris. Since the title of the exhibition was "Peintres Impressionistes et Symbolistes" the Nabis were called Symbolists and they were welcomed among Symbolist poets. Although Denis' statement in the top of the page, about colours being in order, was taken up by abstract artists, the innovation of Nabis were primarily in style and theorization. Their choices of subject remained traditional /portraiture, scenes of Paris life, religious scenes.
As well as paintings the group exhibited prints, poster designs, theatre programme designs. Les Nabis exhibited together until 1899, after that they seperated. A devoted Catholic, Denis turned his attention to religious subjects and he founded the Studio of Sacred Art. Sérusier also turned to religious symbolism. Each and other member continued to define their own styles and concentrated on domestic interiors, which eventually led them to be called "Intimistes"