Who were the Nabis?

From the second half of the 19th century onwards, a group of friends and painters in their twenties formed the Nabis group.

The term Nabi means "prophet", "inspired", in Arabic and Hebrew. The name was chosen largely out of self-deprecation, because according to the painter Maurice Denis: "it was a name that, in relation to the galleries, made us initiates, a kind of secret society with a mystical air, and proclaimed that the state of prophetic enthusiasm was customary for us. As "prophets", the Nabis intended to renew the art of their time.

Among the pioneers of the group at the end of the 1880s, we can mention: Paul Sérusier, Paul-Elie Ranson, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis. They were united by a common and innovative research that puts the question of decoration at the heart of their concerns. Each painter had a nickname, a sign of belonging to the group. Pierre Bonnard is the very Japanese Nabi (a direct allusion to his interest in Japanese art). Paul-Elie Ranson is the more Japanese Nabi than the more Japanese Nabi. Paul Sérusier is the Nabi with the shiny beard. Maurice Denis is the Nabi with the beautiful icons, and Édouard Vuillard, the Nabi zouave. Like a secret society, the Nabis met in Ranson's studio, which they called "the Temple". They also invented a coded language. For them, an "icon" was a painting, a "bourgeois" an ignoramus. They signed ETPMV: "en ta paume, mon verbe" (in your palm, my word).

The Nabis were not an isolated movement in their time, quite the contrary. They were influenced by the English Aesthetic Movement Arts & Crafts. In the 1860s, this movement was already questioning the decorative arts. The Nabis, in turn, wanted to create a decorative art that was in tune with their time: very optimistic and dynamic.

They arrived at the end of the 19th century, a time when art was moving more towards abstraction, towards symbolism, and away from the naturalism of the Impressionists.

The embellishment of everyday life.

The Nabis artists rejected Impressionism, which was too realistic for them. They advocated a new, revolutionary art that would embellish everyday life, an art that would abandon classical easel painting to create decorative works on interior supports: screens, stained glass, fans, tapestries, ceramics. They demonstrate that utilitarian objects can also accommodate beauty. They have a desire to create a modern decor for modern interiors in everyday life. They wanted to incorporate art everywhere, and thus create an art form accessible to all, in the form of objects redesigned by artists. The Nabis conveyed an embellished vision of life, a beauty in everyday life. For example, they created very cheerful wallpaper prototypes. In addition to this desire to embellish life, the Nabis opened up art, bringing artists and craftsmen together to create a new environment. The Nabis were among the first artists to work from their memory and imagination, at the expense of real settings.

They drew their inspiration from medieval tapestries and adopted ancestral techniques such as "détrampe". But they were also interested in Japanese Art Nouveau, to create contemporary scenes in a modern setting.

The Nabis and Japonism: when Japan meets Occident.

At this time, the Nabis were fascinated by Japanese art. They collected prints and the crepes used to wrap goods. They were interested in Japanese textile art and motifs. In addition to the quest for exoticism, Japanese art influenced the style of the Nabis. The painters adopted the simplification of forms, the taste for sinuous lines for silhouettes, the abandonment of perspective and depth, and bright colours. They also adopted the vertical formats of the kakemono. The themes were also renewed. Fleeting impressions of everyday life were captured. The Nabis thus depicted their loved ones in scenes of daily life.

The Nabis and symbolism.

Symbolist aesthetics dominated the painting of the Nabis. As Maurice Denis wrote, the symbolist aesthetic is "that poetry of intuition, that art of evoking and suggesting, instead of telling and saying, that integral lyricism that poets and artists strive to convey in their works. "

The setting no longer depicts reality, it reinvents it.

In his decorative panels, Vuillard addresses the theme of interiors. His interior settings evoke the inwardness of people, most often that of the clients, as a kind of double of themselves. It is not an inner mirror of reality, but an interpretation.

The Nabis and women.

Women are omnipresent in the work of the Nabis. Women are subjects of inspiration, muses, idealized women. In their works, the Nabis expressed a certain tension between the depiction of a charming femininity intended to be contemplated pleasantly, and the possibility of autonomous action in women. In some of Bonnard's works, women are represented as elegant muses, modern inspirers and also figures of modernity, such as Misia, a pianist and patron of many artists, praising La Revue Blanche (a cultural and artistic publication with progressive views).

Despite the revolution that this movement brought, this enchanted interlude only lasted about ten years (1888-1900). The Nabis group dissolved and each artist went his own way.

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