In the early 1980s, the Hays were attracted to the paintings of Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Maillol, Ranson and Vuillard whose works expressed the mysterious intricacies of the mind, the resonance of feelings and the complexity of human relationships. The Nabis group was formed in the early 1890s to defend a Symbolist and decorative art form and reject the mere imitation of reality through established formulae. The Nabis invented a new aesthetic language where a visual equivalent of reality, evoking spiritual truths, poetry and dreams could be achieved through sinuous lines, flat areas of colour, strong contrasts of light and shadow and a two-dimensional quality in their images. Their paintings are sometimes difficult to decode at first glance.
This mysterious aspect appealed to the Hays, who bought some remarkable paintings like the seventh panel of Vuillard's Public Gardens (the Musée d'Orsay has five others from this series of nine). Little Girls Walking, depicts two of the apprentices Vuillard's mother employed in her dressmaking studio, as they stroll in the Tuileries gardens. It came into the Hays collection in 2008 and is currently one of their favourite paintings.
A Japanese screen, an important early work by Bonnard, had been dismantled before being reunited and bought by the Hays, who also own Spring and Autumn, the decorative panels Maurice Denis created for a double door of the living room of Arthur Huc. He was the editor of the newspaper La Dépêche de Toulouse, and had been a friend and supporter of the Nabis from the very beginning.
Two masterly works by Redon, The Red Flower, which once belonged to Maurice Denis, and Vase of Flowers and Profile, complete this Symbolist and Nabi collection that has just been further enriched by two new acquisitions, Maurice Denis' Children tea at Le Pouldu and Maillol's Washerwomen.
The Hays were attracted by the intense, full of life colours of early 20th century French art. The red of the cape in Derain's Harlequin with Guitar, the carmine stockings of the model in the yellow Turkish slippers in Marquet's painting, and the embroidered flowers in Matisse's portrait of a woman, all resonate with a sensuality also found in the full-bodied forms of Maillol's Summer, a bronze produced during the artist's lifetime in 1911.
The triumphant feminity of this allegory is a complete contrast to Rodin's Petite Eve designed for The Gates of Hell who curled up, her arms wrapped around her body. Dina Vierny who posed for most of Maillol's sculptures, was also the model for the series of nudes, rendered in red chalk, few of them displayed in the last room of the exhibition. Refusing to restrict themselves to a linear history of art, the Hays encourage comparative and complementary perspectives and dialogue between artists. In 2001, they bought the Portrait of Soutine that Modigliani had painted on a door of the apartment of the art dealer Léopold Sborowski (1889-1932). This portrait, completed in one sitting, is a moving testimony to a fragile and destitute artist in the bohemian heyday of Montparnasse.