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Exhibition of masterpieces of Nabis art opens at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich
Paul Gauguin, Four Breton Women, 1886. Oil on canvas ©Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

MUNICH.- Paris intense, such is the title given by Félix Vallotton to a series of lithographs made in 1893/94 in which he takes a modern look at the French metropolis. Vallotton gets beneath the skin of Paris and presents viewers with a concentrated and intensified reality which is quite the opposite of Belle-Époque trumpery, affectation and elegance. Only a short while before he had taken up with a group of artists called les Nabis (Hebrew for ‘prophets’ or ‘enlightened ones’). The unorthodox formal language of this circle of young students at the Académie Julian gave a new face to posters, journals, interiors and stage design in fin-de-siècle Paris .

Masterpieces of Nabis art, such as Vuillard’s ‘Café Scene’, Bonnard’s ‘Lignite Colliery’ and Maillol’s sculpture ‘Flora’ will already be known to visitors to the Neue Pinakothek. This exhibition brings together all works by the Nabis held in the museum’s collections for the first time, and throws new light on this exceptional group and its intentions.

Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, Félix Vallotton and Édouard Vuillard, among others, were part of the Nabis inner circle. All were searching for new ‘genuine’ forms of expression. Art was to be freed from the need to represent and the naturalism of the Impressionists was to be overcome. Following Gauguin’s example, the young artists composed paintings using bright, strongly contoured fields of colour. Their simple formal language creates a subtle atmosphere, which goes much deeper than the pastose surface of the painting. Subjects recede into the background and the materiality of the picture – its lines, colours and shapes – come to the fore. Though some of their works greatly furthered the dissolution of the object in painting and its reduction into essential components, the Nabis never went over to complete abstraction.

The modernity of the Nabis found its expression in a variety of media. Bonnard, for example, created exceptional posters, not to mention ingenious illustrations for Paul Verlaine’s Symbolist poems. Vuillard decorated rooms with interior scenes in the large formats of which his clients would also find themselves reflected. Vallotton created woodcuts for magazines such as the avant-garde Revue blanche, the clear lines of which are a cool dissection of urban life and human relationships. Some Nabis artists designed stage-sets for Symbolist theatre and crafted objects, such as pieces of furniture or folding screens. Capturing scenes of everyday life on the streets of Paris , in the parks and behind the closed doors of the appartements in pictures which are thick with atmosphere, the goal of these young artists was to integrate life and art.

This exhibition presents works by the Nabis and such precursors as Gauguin, van Gogh and Puvis de Chavannes from the Neue Pinakothek’s own collections. Complementing the presentation will be a number of important exhibits from the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München and several exquisite loans from other external sources. The exhibition does not attempt to present all members of this group of artists. Instead, by selecting paintings and sculptures by Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton, Sérusier, Denis and Maillol which are characteristically Nabis, the exceptional quality of their works in the Neue Pinakothek is to be placed in focus.

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