Maurice Denis was born on 25 November 1870 in Granville, Manche. From a young age his passions were religion and art, which would fuel him throughout his life. Denis entered the prestigious Lycée Condorcet in Paris in 1882, where Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel were amongst his fellow students. In 1884, he visited the Louvre for the first time, which he would return to continually to copy from the Old Masters, particularly Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Raphael. Denis left the Lycée and enrolled at the Académie Julian in 1888 to prepare for the entrance examination for the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He became close with Paul Sérusier and Pierre Bonnard, who were also studying at the Académie Julian, and together with them would form the group, Les Nabis (‘the prophets’), alongside Vuillard, Roussel, Félix Vallotton and Auguste Cazalis.
In 1889, Denis discovered the work of Paul Gauguin at a group show at the Café Volpini, which had a formative effect upon the artist. The bright colours and boldly outlined style of his compositions immediately affected Denis’ painting practice. Whilst the Nabis would continue until 1900, Denis explored numerous influences, taking inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints, the Symbolist movement and latterly Art Nouveau and the decorative arts – Denis would design wallpapers, stained glass, tapestries, lamp shades, screens and fans.
Ten years after forming the Nabis, Denis travelled for the first time to Rome, where the works of Raphael and Michelangelo made a strong impression on him. On his return to Paris, he re-orientated his art towards neo-classicism, embracing the Renaissance concept of disegno and perspective, as well as mythological subjects from 1906 onwards. Denis would also join the Société nationale des beaux-arts in 1898, with whom he had been exhibiting with since 1896 and would continue to do so until 1922. He began teaching at the Académie Ranson in Paris in 1909, and also began to devote time to writing art theory, eventually publishing Théories. Denis would spend the final decades of his life devoted to large-scale murals and religious art. He died on 13 November 1943.
Denis’ work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Neue Pinakothek, Munich; Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Musée d’Orsay, Paris.