Art: Nabi’s time

Art: Nabi’s time

Paul Gauguin had begun, the dreamer who fled Europe in search of a corrupt society he would think he had found in Tahiti, recommend not copying nature too much, but going back to driving the imagination. It was the right time for a new turning point, understood by a group of young painters who by chance accepted the name “Prophets” translated into Hebrew: “Nabis”. Not only did these enthusiasts reasonably believe that they could occupy the space that little by little, albeit for personal reasons, would leave the Impressionists free, but they understood that it was a matter of going the opposite way: to go back to the city.. To return to the city to bring art and artists back to the people; not an easy obligation if even at that moment it seemed to be received by the whole world.

Art could not only be represented by the painting that was glued to the walls of the bourgeois living room, but it had to be a part of life to bring poetry back to everything men spend in their time. Without at least a hint of myth, the neighbors said to themselves, society leads a suffocating, limited, absurd life. Myth is joy and reason to live, the essence of poetry and the justification of art. Precisely in order to rediscover all this, it was necessary to rediscover the city, the social life in all its aspects, which had to be re-evaluated in the name of beauty.

No longer, or not only, entrust everything to the painting done en-plein-air which represented an escape from indifference and an individualistic quest, but to rethink the whole of human life in the forms of art, inside the houses as well as outside, between the city walls. For this reason, in addition to trying to bring the painting back to great decoration, they tried to recreate everyday objects and every possible decor of the house into art by designing wallpaper, furniture, stained glass windows, vases, screens, fans, posters. What was called the International Liberty gave the tips; everywhere and in his own way one participated in the great dream; The neighbors did their part excellently.

They had created a very close-knit group despite the diversity of characters, views and achievements, the anarchist, the catholic and perhaps the fascist could work together and with conviction in the same work, it was poetry that united everything in this commitment to generous utopia, which also bore fruit. They met once a month to develop programs, exchange ideas, accept or refrain from tasks that could be performed peacefully by several hands. They went so far as to reinvent parties and related ceremonies, such as the special one introduced to celebrate Maurice Denis’ engagement.

Gauguin remained the tutelary deity, grateful that they had purchased a work which they kept again to enjoy its beauty and learn from it. They did not know poverty, the neighbors, and they did not dream of greatness, but they thought of an orderly world in the purity of forms and colors.. The dangers they could run as they ran and sometimes suffered were the “way,” the cerebralism, the academy, the exaggerated abstraction; when they did not fall, they produced masterpieces.

In some cases, what they have acquired from authors, works and trends (Puvis de Chevannes, Odilon Redon, Japanese prints, the “primitives” and the Italian 15th century) may seem even greater than what they were able to restore, but the commitment was and remains nonetheless generous, noble and necessary. It could happen that a forest in the fall was read and represented by them as a quiet living room, where the obvious literary definition of the “leaf carpet” really turned out to be a red carpet that time could not decompose or decompose, a carpet stretched out at the passage of ‘invisible fairies, elves, goblins.

Also months paintings by Denis represent a rediscovery, compositions that hardly vary in pastel colors, cold, golden, shaded colors. The figures are ghosts, sacred or profane it does not matter, while the light is often a relaxing glow. IN Procession under the trees even the unusually blue shadows run on the ground and climb up into the figures like arabesques intending to bind each part of the composition.

Procession under the trees

When Denis wants to know a less dreamy reality, we want paintings such as Portrait of Eva Maurier where the ties are found through the striped motif of the dress. On the other hand, the testimony of enthusiasm and an attempt at appropriation is back from the trip to Italy Portrait of Madame Chausson it has an old dress on a curtain from the fifteenth century that makes Denis almost a forerunner of the costume self-portraits of our de Chirico.

Ker-Xavier Roussel chased the myth in a revolt of herbs, sky and various pleasuresthere is in his allegorical paintings a convincing chromaticism, a joyful use of ghostly figures, which creates a strange contrast to the tiring ornaments of tapestries, variously repeated by Ranson.

Rural Festival, Ker-Xavier Roussel's Summer, 1911-1913, Oil on Canvas, Pushkin Museum
Rural Festival, Ker-Xavier Roussel’s Summer, 1911-1913, Oil on Canvas, Pushkin Museum

And then Vuillard, painter of familiar subjects divided by colors and united by dreamy atmospheres, gripping in even sensual tonesthe intersection of a loose, flickering, caressing design.

Vallotton and Misia in the Dining Room (1899)
Édouard Vuillard – Vallotton and Misia in the Dining Room (1899)

Even the best-known Bonnard with his world of sensations evoked by a soft, juicy, sometimes immature color. More than distinguishing the objects in their own right, the care he shows to make everything fresh means, as if just picked, that every detail contributes to the whole in a kind of old gripping glass window without precise views, escapes, focus centers or guidelines, to which one can entrust the gaze. The eye can thus wander far and wide and encounter a constant imagery that seems to be the prelude to Matisse without sacrificing moist atmospheres, with a subtle taste and a lost and rediscovered design between a color and a shape.

Roof view of Le Cannet by Pierre Bonnard 1942
Roof view of Le Cannet by Pierre Bonnard 1942

The Nabis group: Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, Vallotton, Serusier, Ranson, Roussel remain a perhaps irrevocable example of how even dreams sometimes know how to impose on reality their happy utopias, at least enough to regain hope.. The overwhelming and lasting worldwide success of the Impressionists left little room for the neighbors, the general public may remember some of them, and perhaps only in name.

“Il Giornale”, Milan May 3, 1998

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