Maurice Denis

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Denis, Maurice

Denis, Maurice (môrēsˈ dənēˈ), 1870–1943, French painter and writer on art. His paintings, usually on religious themes, have not proved so influential as his art theories. As the spokesman for symbolism and for the Nabis, Denis proposed his famous definition of painting: “Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.” In 1919, Denis attempted to revive the teaching of religious art and cofounded the Studios of Sacred Art. His writings include Théories (2 vol.; 1920, 1922) and Histoire de l'art religieux (1939).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Denis, Maurice


Born Nov. 25, 1870, in Granville, Normandy; died Nov. 3, 1943, in St.-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris. French painter.

Denis studied in Paris at the Julian Academy and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was influenced by the work of P. Gauguin. Denis was one of the founders of the Nabis group (1890) and of the Studios of Sacred Art (1919) and was a leader of the “neotraditionalist” school in French painting. His art is representative of the symbolist and art nouveau style. It tends toward bold forms and decorative harmony and at the same time is permeated with a vague, vacillating, and at times religious-mystical feeling. It is characterized by flat stylization, the interplay of rounded and weakly defined contour lines, and light, somewhat excessively sweet colors. Denis painted religious and mythological subjects, portraits, and landscapes (The Artist’s Wife, 1893, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Martha and Mary, 1896; the 11-panel Story of Psyche, 1908-09, both in the Hermitage, Leningrad) and executed murals and designs for stained-glass windows and tapestries, as well as theater sets and book illustrations. As a theorist Denis affirmed the primacy of the decorative color principle in painting (Theories, 1912, and New Theories, 1921).


Jamot, P. Maurice Denis. Paris, 1945.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.