- Maurice Denis
VISITATION EN BLEU or VISITATION AU COLOMBIER
- signed with the monogram and dated 94 (lower right)
oil on canvas
Baron Denys Cochin, Paris (acquired directly from the artist in 1894)
Galerie Druet, Paris (acquired in 1910)
Gustave Fayet, Béziers (acquired from the above in 1911)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery & Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Maurice Denis, 1994-95, no. 78, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
In 1894, when his wife was expecting their first child, Maurice Denis painted a series of works based on the theme of the Visitation. According to the gospel, Mary, while pregnant with Jesus, paid a visit to her cousin Elizabeth who was also expecting her first child. The artist would treat this theme in a variety of settings, landscapes and domestic situations during the course of his life.
Visitation en bleu is the only known version to be set in Brittany and the dovecote portrayed can still be seen today near Perros-Guirrec. It must have met with the artist's satisfaction, as he executed a print after this painting which was published in La Revue Blanche in December 1894. It is probable that Denis used his wife Mathilde as the model for the Virgin Mary, and his mother or mother-in-law for Elizabeth. Both women would also sit for Visitation of 1894, now in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg (fig. 1).
Visitation en bleu was purchased by Baron Denys Cochin during the exhibition at the Barc de Boutteville towards the end of 1894, and would ultimately enter the distinguished collection of Gustave Fayet, a great collector of the works of Gauguin and Redon, both of whom he befriended.
The dramatic tension of the work is emphasised by the fact that the artist has treated it almost as a miniature. The eye is drawn towards the two central figures enclosed between the horse and cart at the front of the work and the dovecote at the back. The differences in scale also add to the overall drama. As Thérèse Barruel suggests: 'la réduction des couleurs, la hardiesse de leur intensité, et l'extrême simplification des formes, créent un effet émotionnel qui augmente l'impact de la rencontre des deux femmes. "C'est dans la limitation des moyens que l'artiste peut le mieux montrer sa force" disait Gauguin' (T. Barruel, Maurice Denis (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1994-95, p. 211).
This work has been requested for inclusion in the Maurice Denis exhibition to be held at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, from Autumn 2006 to Spring 2007.