The Nabis were a group of young avant-garde Parisian artists, who in the 1890s developed a decorative and Synthetist style deeply influenced by Paul Gauguin. Uninterested in Impressionist technique, which they regarded as too sensory and concerned only with the optical... [more]
The Nabis were a group of young avant-garde Parisian artists, who in the 1890s developed a decorative and Synthetist style deeply influenced by Paul Gauguin. Uninterested in Impressionist technique, which they regarded as too sensory and concerned only with the optical effects of a fleeting moment in time, they explored instead a simplified and increasingly decorative painting style in which lines, forms and plans of flat colour were seen as having the power to evoke an emotional, and even spiritual, response in the viewer.
The term 'Nabi', Hebrew for 'prophet', was coined by the critic Auguste Cazalis, and was seen by members of the group as suggestive of something esoteric and mystical, as well as leading towards revelation; that is to say, the young Nabi artists saw themselves as transforming modern art, and were closely allied to the symbolist movement in literature and theatre.
In October 1888 Paul Sérusier returned to Paris from Brittany, fired with enthusiasm for the new and radical painting style of Paul Gauguin. He brought with him a small landscape painted on a cigar-box lid, an almost abstract pattern of strong colours. This picture, which the Nabis called 'The Talisman', transformed the ideas and painting style of Sérusier's young friends at the Académie Julian, such as Pierre Bonnard and Paul Ranson, as well as his precociously talented friend Maurice Denis, who was still at secondary school. Édouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Aristide Maillol soon joined the group.
All the Nabi artists developed a decorative, simplified style, strongly influenced by their experience of Japanese prints, and characterized by delicate arabesque lines and decorative patterning. Sérusier and Denis were among the theorists of the group, while Bonnard and Vuillard were content with concentrating on pure painting and their 'intimist' domestic subject matter. Many Nabis, but particularly Denis and Vuillard, also worked for the new radical Symbolist theatre, producing stage sets, posters and illustrated programmes. [show less]