Lot 141
  • 141

Maurice Denis

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Maurice Denis
  • L'Essayage
  • stamped with the artist’s monogram (lower right)
  • oil on paper laid down on board
  • 58.5 by 43cm., 23 by 16 7/8 in.


Family of the Artist, France (by descent)
Luc Denis, Paris (by descent from the above by 2009)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Maurice Denis, ses maîtres, ses amis, ses élèves, 1945-46
Nice, Union Méditerranéenne pour l’Art Moderne, La Belle Époque, 1950, no. 104
Bern, Kunsthalle, Die Maler der Revue Blanche, Toulouse Lautrec und die Nabis, 1951, no. 93
Neuss, Clemens-Sels Museum, Maurice Denis, 1954, no. 12
Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis, 1955, no. 104
Copenhagen, Winkel & Magnussen Gallery, Gauguin et son école, 1956, no. 56
Paris, Pontoise & Auvers-sur-Oise, Art Sacré, 1960, no. 84
Paris, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Maurice Denis, 1963, no. 41
Albi, Musée Toulouse Lautrec, Maurice Denis, 1963, no. 66, illustrated in the catalogue (with incorrect dimensions)
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Die Nabis und ihre Freunde, 1963-64, no. 91, illustrated in the catalogue
London, Wildenstein Gallery, Maurice Denis, 1964
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Maurice Denis, 1970, no. 169, illustrated in the catalogue (with incorrect dimensions)
Bremen, Kunsthalle; Zurich, Kunsthaus & Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, Maurice Denis, 1971-72, no. 84, illustrated in the catalogue
Pont-Aven, Musée de l’Hôtel de Ville, Maurice Denis, 1979, no. 45, illustrated in the catalogue (with incorrect dimensions)
Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art & Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art, Maurice Denis, 1981, no. 57, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Galerie Huguette Berès, Maurice Denis, 1992, no. 50, illustrated in the catalogue
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery & Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Maurice Denis 1870-1943, 1994-95, no. 74, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Florence, Palazzo Corsini, Il tempo dei Nabis, 1998, no. 67, illustrated in the catalogue
Avignon, Musée Angladon, L’Art et la Mode 1900: Paris-Avignon, 2000
Ourense, Centro Social Caixanova, Los nabis. Profetas de la modernidad, 2007, illustrated in the catalogue
Castellon, Sala Bancaja San Miguel, Bancaixa Fundació Caixa Castelló, Maurice Denis y los nabis, profetas del arte moderno, 2008, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée Jardin-Maurice Denis, 2009 (on loan)
Lodève, Musée de Lodève, De Gauguin aux Nabis. Le Droit de tout oser, 2010, no. 142, illustrated in the catalogue


Arthur Ellridge, Gauguin et les Nabis, Paris, 1993, illustrated in colour p. 175
Jean-Jacques Lévêque, Maurice Denis 1870-1943, Le Peintre de l'âme, Paris, 2006, n.n., illustrated in colour p. 31


Executed on paper laid down on board. The board is stable and affixed to a wooden stretcher. UV examination reveals intermittent retouching along the left edge (to the gap between the edge of the paper and the board) and a few spots along the lower edge. There are a few further tiny spots of infilling in places. There a few irregularities in the surface of the board. This work is in good overall condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1898, L'Essayage is a tender and intimate portrayal of Maurice Denis’ adored wife, Marthe Meurier. The couple married on 12th June 1893, and went on to have seven children together, with Denis frequently employing his family as subjects for his work. Marthe served effectively as the artist’s muse, acting as his model on many occasions. Within the present work, Marthe stands patiently as alterations are made to her dress, whilst another woman – believed to be her sister, Eva – carefully inspects herself in a delicate hand mirror. The overall effect is one of tranquil domesticity, with the harmonious arrangement of the figures mirroring the atmosphere of serenity which pervades the scene.

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.