Les Arbes Verts ou Les Hetres de Kerduel, Maurice Denis, 1893 L'Enfant au tablier ou La Petite Fille a la robe rouge, Maurice Denis, 1899


Serusier, Paul (1863-1927) - S
Ranson, Paul (1864-1909) - R
Roussel, K-X (1867-1944) - KX
Bonnard, Pierre (1867-1947) - B
Vuillard, Edouard (1868-1940) - V
Lacombe, George (1868-1960) - L
Jan Verkade (1868-1846)
Denis, Maurice (1870-1943) - D
Haan, Meyer de (Died 1894)
Piot, Rene
Ibels, H-B
Maillol, Aristide

According to source 2 there were 14 members. These are my listings.

Also Associated with the Nabis and Gauguin

Maxime Maufra (1861-1918)
Charles Filiger (1863-1928)
Emile Bernard (1868-1941)
Armand Seguin (1869-1903)
Jozsef Rippl-Ronai
James Pitcairn-Knowles

Contemporary Movements

School of Sacred Art at the Abbey of
     Beuron (see Verkade)


Paul Gauguin
Literary Symbolism
French Romanticism of
    Gerard de Nerual and Aloysius Bertrand
Victor Hugo’s Mysticism
Painting of Moreau and Puvis
     a bridge between academicism and
     symbolist art
Naturalism (Prose)
Pre-Raphaelite Movement
     developed in Britain 1848.


The term Nabis was coined by Cazalis. It is the Hebrew word for Prophet. The group signed letters with D.T.P.M.V.E.M.P. Dan ta paume mon verbe et me pensee. In your palm my word and thought.

October 1888 Serusier leaves Gauguin at Pont-Aven in Brittany with a landscape of the Bois d'Amour painted on the lid of a cigar box. This became ‘Le Talisman’ which impressed students at the Academie Julian to form a group whose principles of art were embodied by this box. He first showed the box to Denis, then Bonnard, Ranson, Ibels, Rene Piot, other students at the Academy Julian, and to critic Auguste Cazalis. It is an example of Gauguin's Synthetism, a "notion that form and color were expressive independent of the subject depicted."1 

In late spring 1889 Vuillard and Roussel enter A. Julian and the Nabi brotherhood. In early 91 Dutch Jan Verkade comes to Paris and meet Serusier through Gauguin's Dutch pupil Meyer de Haan, and was initiated into the Nabis. Francesco Morgens Ballin de Copenhagen comes to Paris and meets the Nabis. In 1892 Georges Lacombe met Serusier. In 1894 the Hungarian Jozsef Rippl-Ronai, who had been in Paris since 1887, and his Scottish friend James Pitcairn-Knowles became closely associated with the Nabis. In 1895 Ronai brings in Aristide Maillol.

They held monthly dinners, all dressed in oriental costume. Each brought a 'icone' (picture). Also met on Saturdays they would met at Ranson's studio at 25 Bl de Montparnasse for discussions. His studio and Lacombe's where they would also meet were called ergasteriums. Ranson's studio was also referred to as 'The Temple' and Mme Ranson as 'The Light of the Temple.' It is Ranson who gave every member their "picturesque soubriquet."3 (Nabi nickname)

Despite ideological differences the group was together until 1896.1 Lacombe and Ranson (not to mention Serusier) did not abandon the doctrines of the Nabi like Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Bonnard and Denis did later. Denis, Verkade, Ballin, and Serusier were Catholic. Ranson and Lacombe were anticlerical. Ranson and Serusier were theosophist. Roussel, Ibels and Valloton were anarchists.

Their outlook derived from French Symbolist poets. Many were born during Franco Prussian War.

The Nabi were involved as producers, poster artists, program illustrators. They drew for the Reuve Blance, theatrical magazines. Easel painting was a minor art. Their first love, decorative panel. "humorous journalistic illustration flourished in Montmarte and the immensely popular shadow theater productions created by illustrators of the Chat Noir cabaret offered suitably audacious forms by which the Nabis could arrive at pictorial expressions for their often abstract concepts."

Maurice Denis said, "To the bold innovations of the Impressionists and Divisionists we new comers have added artlessness of execution and forms simplified almost to the point of caricature: just that was Symbolism." "To the Nabis a picture had meaning only when it possessed 'style.' That is to say when the artist had succeeded in changing the shape of the objects he was looking at and imposing on them contours or a color that expressed his own personality."3 Resemblence was the enemy.

Bonnard and Vuillard were called 'intimists.'

The Lycee’ Condorcet and the Academie Julian

See Chapter 1 from Source 3

K-X Roussel entered the Lycee' in 1876 at the age of 12.
Vuillard entered in 1879 at the age of 11.
Thadee Natanson future editor of  Reuve Blanche was there around this time.
Lugne-Poe formed a group of amateur actors and won the drawing prize one year.
Koechlin the composer won first prize for the fifth form in 1884.
Jacques Lebaudy was there in 1883, the future 'Emperor of the Sahara.'

In 1888 Maurice Denis, Vuillard, K-X Roussel and Serusier? were at the Lycee.
In 1888 Ranson was a student at the Academie Julian.
In late spring 1889 Vuillard and Roussel entered the A. Julian and the Nabi brotherhood.
Denis frequented the Academie Julian. He went to the Ecole des Beaux Arts after secondary school with a course at A. Julian.
Bonnard and Lacombe went to the Academie Julian.
After the Lycee’ Condorcet Serusier went to the Academie Julian where he became the student in charge.

Nabis 'style' and 'monumental style'

See Chapter 10 from Source 3

Beyond symbolism the Nabi were concerned with architectural construction. Egyptian and Japanese art, pure color, beautiful grays.

Charles Blanc (1813-1882) art historian, critic, editor of the Gazette de Beaux-Arts in the 1860's

Symbolist period: motivating force: exteriorization of the ego

Brunetiere's essay on the conflict between two meanings of 'style': that of an epoch and that on an individual - in Grande encyclopedia

Denis definition of style in his journal 1903:

Monumental style: Histoire de l'Art Francais - several volumes by Rene Schneider

ex. that only sculpture (egyptian) that needs the context of the temple in which it is placed for meanings is monumental art.

there may be movement in M art but the static feeling dominates - hieraticism, deep religious sense, M. art demands synthetism, simplification at once distorting and suggestive.

As renaissance spread modelling replaced carving, easel picture took fresco, bronze csting come into its own but still... versailles was monumental

But then with Romanticism, Impressionism, Monumental art dying

Pissarro said to S (who repeated it to Chasse') "We have been destroyers. Now it is up to the builders to come."

Concrete helps archituecture to return and monumental as ever in 1925!

To the Nabis monumental had to involve elements of fantasy and complexity (mystics) thus introduced nuances, curving lines, carefully chosen details.

Gauguin’s companions not completely Nabis

See Chapter 7 from Source 3

In Arsene Alexandre’s book on Gauguin: "disciples of G often opposed him on certain points."

Other disciples of Gauguin: Charles Laval and Daniel de Mondreid.

Vallaton also not a Nabi and never went to Le Pouldu.

Henry Moret always remained an impressionist.



1)    The Nabis, Parisian Vanguard. Humorous Illustrators, and the Circle of the Chat Noir. Patricia Eckert Boyer. (an article found in a book in the National Art Library, London)
2)    The Art of the Nabis: From Symbolism to Moderism. Elizabeth Prelinger. (an article found in a book in the National Art Library, London)
3)    The Nabis and their period. Charles Chasse’. Translated by Michael Bullock 1969. Lund Humphries, London. First published French 1960.
4)    Symbolist Art, Edward Lucie-Smith, Thames & Hudson, London, 1972.
6)    Four French Symbolists: A sourcebook on Puvis, Moreau, Redon, Denis, Russell T. Clement.


Chasse’'s Le Mouvement Symboliste dans l’Art du Gauguin et son Temps. He had many conversations with Serusier.
Thubert’s articles on Serusier (as Celtic renaissance) appearing in Art et Decoration Aug 1922 and La Douce France, February 1920.
Agnes Humbert’s essay Essai sur les Nabis.