Modern Decorative Works 1905-1914
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Modern Decorative Works. 1905-1914


Musée d'Orsay. Pavillon Amont, niveau 2© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly
Around 1900, having rehabilitated the intrinsically decorative vocation of painting, and re-established "decoration" as an art form, particularly in the area of large-scale decorative works, the Nabis received some major commissions for decorations. The wealthy middle classes and aristocrats who commissioned them would usually give the painters a free hand in the choice of compositions.
Depending on their destination – reception rooms in private houses, foyers and ceilings in theatres, places of worship – the subjects of the panels would depict the reality of daily domestic life, evoke an oneiric world or represent liturgical acts. From a three-dimensional point of view, these series of decorative works by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, Roussel and Redon, were produced according to Nabi precepts: blocks of flat colour, expressive lines, saturation of space, suggestive abstract images. These artists produced portraits of their clients – dealers and friends – posing in their interiors that they had filled with furniture and miscellaneous objects.

These works were seen as a revival of the French decorative tradition, as an expression of a classicism that went further than any other aesthetic formula.
Alongside this, in a reaction against Art Nouveau, the young artists-decorators expressed a desire to return to this French tradition and its qualities of order, clarity and harmony. And so a new generation turned away from an art it considered to be fashion orientated and far too revolutionary to create, in the words of a theoretician of the time, "serious, logical and welcoming decorative ensembles".

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© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly

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