The flat planes of bold colour reflect Denis’ revolutionary creative dictum: ‘Remember that a painting – before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or an anecdote of some sort – is essentially a flat surface covered with colours, put together in a certain order’ (quoted in John Golding, Visions of the Modern, Los Angeles, 1994, p. 29). Originally formulated as a theory by the artist in 1890, this pioneering concept arguably anticipated the move towards abstraction which was to become such a fundamental aspect of early twentieth century painting, whilst also serving as a source of inspiration for other artists associated with the Nabis group, such as Paul Serusier, Paul Gauguin and Georges Lacombe. Denis was a founding member of the Nabis, an association of artists who sought to break away from traditional subjects in favour of painting dominated by flat planes of colour and simplified forms as a means of attaining a greater level of spirituality within art. Formed in 1888, the group also attracted artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard to its ranks before dis-banding in 1899.
L'Essayage boasts a distinguished and extensive exhibition history, having been included in a number of shows dedicated to the Nabis as well as individual exhibitions devoted solely to the artist between 1945 and 2010. It remained in the collection of the artist’s descendants until 2009.
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