Musée d'Orsay: Maurice Denis Princess Maleine's Minuet

Maurice Denis
Princess Maleine's Minuet

Princess Maleine's Minuet or Marthe Playing the Piano
Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
Princess Maleine's Minuet or Marthe Playing the Piano
Oil on canvas
H. 95; W. 60 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Le menuet de la Princesse Maleine ou Marthe au piano [Princess Maleine's Minuet or Marthe Playing the Piano]

This is one of the first portraits of Marthe Meurier (cf. Young Girls With Lamp), Maurice Denis's fiancée he was to marry on June 12, 1893. The pages of the artist's diary are full of confidences of his love for the young girl: "One feels more beautiful when one is in love. The attitudes are easy and chaste. Life becomes precious, discreet." Diary, September 3, 1891)."She is more beautiful than any picture, any representation, any subjective effect! She exists outside of me, I am not the one who creates her" (id. 1891); "Faith, love is an act of faith. I believe in you, Marthe" (id., November 8, 1891).

In Princess Maleine's Minuet, Marthe is represented in a three quarter profile, in a supple attitude, hands delicately resting on the piano keys. In the background, the cover of the music score features a frontispiece by Maurice Denis. The quiet and mysterious atmosphere of this portrait contrasts with that of the violent tragedy by Maurice Maeterlinck, the author of The Princess Maleine, created in 1890. The score of this Minuet, inspired by Maeterlinck's piece, which is missing to this day, is by Pierre Hermant (1891).

In October 1891, Denis wrote in his diary, about Marthe: "She is reading again the Princess Maleine until two in the morning. She is pale, nervous, affectionate. "Pains for me, and again doubts. Always doubts. Never mind, it's life." (Diary, I, p.87).

The simplified shapes, the sinuous lines, the symbolical contents and the use of the pointillist technique for the vermiculated background demonstrate characteristics of the young Maurice Denis's art in its beginnings, magnificently displayed in this very accomplished piece.

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