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Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Property from a Distinguished Private Collector
Maurice Denis (1870-1943)

La Pécheresse

Details
Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
La Pécheresse
signed with monogram and dated '94' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21 ¾ x 27 3/8 in. (55.3 x 69.5 cm.)
Painted in 1894
Provenance
Edmond Deman, Brussels (acquired from the artist, 1895).
Galerie Lorenceau, Paris (until 1967).
E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam (1968).
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, 1970.
Literature
G.L. Mauner, The Nabis, their History and their Art, 1888-1896, New York, 1978, p. 62.
T. Barruel, "Maurice Denis et la Belgique," Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art français, 1997-1998, pp. 313-326 (illustrated, p. 318).
C. Verleysen, Maurice Denis et la Belgique, 1890-1930, Louvain, 2010, p. 47 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Paris, Galeries de la Plume, Septième exposition du Salon des Cent, December 1894, no. 97.
Brussels, Musée Moderne, Deuxième exposition de la Libre Esthétique, February-April 1895, no. 200.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

Lot Essay

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

Denis studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julien. Through fellow student Paul Sérusier, he 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 Julien such as Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and others, Denis found himself fundamentally opposed to the naturalism recommended by his academic teachers. Together they formed the “Nabis,” an 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, foreshadowing the founding principles of cubism and fauvism, and establishing the groundwork for the theories of abstraction that would continue to develop throughout the 20th century: “It is well to remember that a picture—before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote—is essentially a plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order” (“Definition of Neo-Traditionism,” Art et Critique, Paris, 1890, reproduced in H.B. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, 1968, p. 94).
In late 1891, Denis fell in love with Marthe Meunier, a musician and devout Christian. They became engaged the following year, and despite the objections of his parents, were married in June of 1893. They celebrated their honeymoon in a house rented in the seaside Breton town of Perros-Guirec; its interior became the artist’s setting for many of his paintings. Among the many qualities Denis admired in his new wife, as he wrote in his journal, “she carries out the essential household tasks with total dedication” while displaying “her shy love and her taste for what is beautiful among humble domestic tasks” (Journal, I; quoted in Maurice Denis, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, 1994, p. 188). Martha of the New Testament, after whom Marthe was named, was also known for her dedication to the home. The artist and his wife, both deeply religious, were familiar with the teachings of the Bible and Denis believed in the importance of imbuing his work with spirituality. Painted in 1894, La Pécheresse depicts several scenes in one, fusing both the domestic and spiritual worlds: two women set the table at right, while a religious scene takes place at left, and through the window, a shepherdess is seen among her cattle.
The first owner of this work, Edmond Deman, was an editor who worked closely with the Belgian symbolists, including James Ensor, Théo van Rysselberghe, Georges Lemmen, and Stéphane Mallarmé, among others. He acquired the present painting directly from Denis in 1895, following its inclusion in the second Libre esthétique exhibition in Brussels.

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