Certainly, one of the most important and key paintings by Ker-Xavier Roussel, and even from his early Nabi years, but with a very strong Symbolism impact. In 1890-92, the mystic philosophy was everywhere discussed in the Nabis circle, through many ways and especially around Denis and Gauguin. Part of this group, Roussel was then strongly drawn to subjects inspired by religion and philosophy. The exploration for essential forms, inspired by Gauguin, is here visible in the extremely stylized silhouette of the Virgin and the refined background. Compared to the usual bright palette of Nabis’s works, Roussel composed here a calm chromatic harmony with a strong matt effect. Almost like a fresco, this work possesses the charm of 14th century Italian murals irradiating a golden luminous atmosphere, almost sacred. This was pretty unusual at the time. With such painting, he left his mark on symbolism as J.A.G. Stump describes in her book about the artist: “La Vierge au Sentier […] is The female type which became the “Art Nouveau woman” – a concoction of sinuous lines and shadows, both spiritualized and sensual, but always remote and divorced from the real world”.
This major painting demonstrates the close relationship between Roussel and Maurice Denis, especially around the years 1890’s. The same idealistic feminine figures, the same delicate palette, and the same attraction for spiritual subjects. The sinuous path, also present in Denis’ works, is a symbol of the trail Christian souls must take to reach the union with God.