France 1870 – 1943
Panel for a girl's bedroom: October evening
[Panneau pour une chambre de jeune fille: soir d’octobre] 1891
oil on canvas
canvas 37.5 (h) x 58.7 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase with partonage organised by the Nikkei Group 2005
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
For the Nabis there was no particular hierarchy in the arts. In the words of Denis’ friend, Bonnard, ‘Our generation always sought to link art with life’; what was ‘envisaged’ was ‘a popular art that was of everyday application: prints, fans, furniture, screens’.1 In this, Denis and other members of the brotherhood were influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, and the Applied Arts Movement in Belgium.
In 1891 Denis set out to create a suite of four paintings devoted to the seasons, which included those for September and October, seen here.2 It is likely that the series was Denis’ response to Bonnard’s Women in a garden 1890–91,3 exhibited in 1891.
Denis exhibited his horizontally formatted set of Poetic subjects: four panels for the decoration of the bedroom of a young girl at the eighth Salon de la Société des Artistes Indépendants in Paris in March–April 1892. A month previously he had shown September evening and October evening in Brussels, perhaps indicating that these works could be considered as individual paintings as much as a narrative series, though it has been suggested that together the series explores ‘the four stages of a woman’s life’.4
In Panel for a girl’s bedroom: September evening Denis has painted the last glow of late summer, with the leaves still on the branches of the silhouetted trees. It is almost twilight and shadows sweep across a group of women on a terrace. Beyond, the sun sets, while the medieval knights on horseback complete the scene. Denis has depicted the trees, fabrics, garlands and fruit in an ornamental manner. The later companion panel, Panel for a girl’s bedroom: October evening, shows autumn. Leaves in browns, reds and golds provide a border for women in a garden. The results are paintings which are ‘decorative, calm and simple’ and ‘very beautiful’; terms which Denis applied to the work of Puvis, whose work he much admired.5
The idea of painting décoration was promoted by Denis as a way forward in the development of composition, as well as a means of catering to the taste of the growing clientele of the Nabis. Such visions of peace and tranquillity served as foils against the chaotic aspects of modern life in Paris, as well as a way of creating a haven in the familial home.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- Bonnard’s correspondence, 7 January 1923, quoted in Claude Roger-Marx, Bonnard: lithogaphe, Monte-Carlo: Editions du livre 1952, p. 11.
- The other two were: April evening, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; and July evening, Fondation Rau pour le Tiers-Monde, Zurich.
- Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich.
- Guy Cogeval, ‘Symbolist echoes’, in Maurice Denis 1870–1943, Ghent: Snoeck-Ducaju and Zoon 1994, p. 156. See also Gloria Groom, Beyond the easel: decorative painting by Bonnard,Vuillard, Denis, and Roussel, 1890–1930, Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago 2001, pp. 78–9, including notes, especially n. 6.
- Maurice Denis, Journal, vol. 1, p. 67, quoted in Cogeval.