Audio: Two Works by Maurice Denis
Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
1 More
Maurice Denis (1870-1943)

Le réveil d'Ulysse

Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Le réveil d'Ulysse
oil on canvas
63 x 112 3/8 in. (160 x 284.5 cm.)
Painted in 1914
Eugène Druet, Paris.
Marcel Kapferer, Paris (acquired from the above, circa 1919).
Private collection (by descent from the above).
Oscar Ghez, Geneva (acquired from the above, June 1969).
Private collection (acquired from the above, 1987).
Galerie Pilzer, Paris (1999).
S. Barazzetti-Demoulin, Maurice Denis, Paris, 1945, pp. 158-159.
M. Brilliant, Portrait de Maurice Denis, Paris, 1945, pp. 29 and 36 (Nausicaa series cited).
P. Jamot, Maurice Denis, Paris, 1945, p. 46 (Nausicaa series cited).
A. Delannoy, Maurice Denis dessinateur, L'oeuvre dévoilé, exh. cat., Musée départmental Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 2006, p. 194 (illustrated, p. 195, fig. 49 and in situ, fig. 50).
D. Grivel, Maurice Denis et la musique, Lyon, 2011, pp. 175-176.
Paris, Grand Palais, 24eme Exposition de la société nationale des beaux-arts, April-June 1914, no. 344.
The Art Institute of Chicago and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of
Art, Beyond the Easel, Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard,
Denis and Roussel, 1890-1930
, February-September 2001, pp. 207-210 and 273, no. 62 (illustrated in color, p. 208; illustrated again in situ, p. 209, fig. 1; with incorrect provenance).

Lot Essay

Claire Denis and Fabienne Stahl will include this work in their forthcoming Denis catalogue raisonné.

Maurice Denis studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian, and through fellow student Paul Sérusier learned of the innovative stylistic movement developed by Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard in Pont-Aven in the summer of 1888. With Sérusier and a number of like-minded contemporaries at the Académie Julian such as Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and others, Denis found himself fundamentally opposed to the naturalism recommended by his academic teachers. They formed the Nabis, a secret artistic brotherhood dedicated to a form of pictorial Symbolism based loosely on the synthetic innovations of Gauguin and Bernard. Their bold experiments in flat paint application and anti-naturalistic color prefigured later abstract initiatives. A gifted writer, Denis's first article, "Définition du néo-traditionnisme," published in Art et critique in 1890, served almost as a group manifesto, and his tireless proselytizing was crucial to the development of the Nabis' early patronage.

Denis's experiments with small-scale, synthetic work soon gave way to more traditional working methods. He had never denied the importance of subject matter, and in his later painting devoted himself to the revival of religious imagery. He undertook immense preparation for the more complex decorative projects he commenced from circa 1900 onwards, cultivating the dry, matte surface of fresco and favoring a muted palette of pastel blues, pinks, grays and mauves. A visit to Rome in 1898 had stirred his interest in classicism, and initiated a shift away from the more spectacular, subjective Symbolism of Gauguin and Van Gogh towards what he saw as the reassertion of the classical values of Paul Cézanne. In articles Denis disseminated the view that classicism was the essence of the French cultural tradition, a view that had considerable influence on a younger generation of artists in France and elsewhere.

In the wake of his first important private decorative commission in 1897 for the Paris hôtel of Baron Denys Cochin, Denis was occupied by a succession of decorative projects for religious and secular settings, notable among them the enormous decorative scheme on the theme of the Histoire de la Musique for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (1912-1913) and the Histoire de l'Art Français for the cupola of the Petit Palais (1924-1925).

The present murals are the largest in a series of works Denis dedicated to the story of Nausicaa. "For Denis, who spent every summer at the beach of Perros-Guirec in northern Brittany, the story of the Phaeacian Princess Nausicaa, from Homer's Odyssey, fit naturally with the theme of women on the seashore that characterized both his mythological and secular works at this time. The Homeric tale begins with Nausicaa dreaming that she must hurry to wash all her garments in preparation for her approaching marriage. After she awakens, she is given permission by her father to take her virgin attendants and a wagon to a faraway beach to perform this task" (G. Groom, ibid., pp. 208-209). The events depicted in the first and larger canvas, Les jeux des laveuses (lot ___) take place as the tale continues with Nausicaa and her attendants spreading the garments on the shore to dry, bathing in the sun and frolicking on the beach. The second canvas, entitled Le réveil d'Ulysse (lot ___), continues with the weak, shipwrecked Ulysses staggering out of a thicket to find himself in the presence of the young and beautiful women. "Denis represented the critical moment when one of the naked women, terrified at the sight of this naked stranger, runs screaming toward the princess and her entourage. Nausicaa, unlike the handmaidens around her, remains calm, having been endowed by Minerva with courage and discernment. Denis set the princess apart both physically and emotionally from her attendants. The only clothed figure, she stands nobly in the center of a bevy of nude and cringing females and confronts the foreigner heroically. Whereas the hero Ulysses himself is almost feral, Nausicaa takes center stage as a symbol of equanimity and intelligence" (ibid., p. 209). Les jeux des laveuses and Le réveil d'Ulysse were exhibited at the Salon de la Société Nationale in the spring of 1914, along with four additional works of the same theme which were vertical in format. The panels were most likely created specifically for the home of Eugène Druet, proprieter of Druet Gallery, and acquired by French businessman and passionate art collector Marcel Kapferer around 1919. The murals hung in the living room of the Kapferer home on rue Charles-Lamoureaux (fig. 1) until 1922-1923, when the panels, together with the other four Nausicaa paintings from the 1914 exhibition, were reinstalled in the dining room of his new mansion on the avenue Henri Martin.

(fig. 1) Photograph of Marcel Kepferer and his daughter, Alice, in the living room of their apartment on rue Charles-Lamoureux, circa 1920. Francine Kapferer Archives, Paris.

More from Impressionist & Modern Day Sale

View All
View All