A stunning example of synthetic landscapes by Maurice Denis, during his Nabis and Symbolist period from 1889 to 1898. This composition of the Brittany shore does display the quality of simplification that the precocious artist was able to reach, and that he partially inherited from Paul Gauguin. Denis had followed Gauguin’s path in Brittany since 1892, mostly in Perros-Guirec and Le Pouldu, an even more secluded village than Pont-Aven. The painter fell in love with this area, and even later bought a villa on the beach of Le Pouldu, in 1908. The present drawing is dated of 1894, when Denis and his wife stayed a few weeks in a house overlooking the harbour of Loctudy. The painter wrote to his parents: “Since we have been left alone, I have been working seriously and we have been able to manage our time more reasonably: we go out in the morning, we have lunch at half past eleven, I work after our walk, we have supper at seven and I do a drawing every evening after the meal. So that I am ahead with these darned drawings and have eight good paintings to finish when I get home and will not regret the time, I spent in Loctudy”.
The present landscape emphasizes a rejection of naturalism. The stylised arabesques of the clouds in the sky echo the wavy lines of the sand dunes. The decorative value is conveyed by the use of plastic means to transcend the apparent banality of the motif and create correspondences between the Idea and a sensible form: the harmony of the Nature, and its inhabitant. The colour range of blue and ochre melted with the mat effect of tempera creates a fullness of seascape. It is to be noted that the decorative approach is reinforced by the fact that Maurice Denis used the verso of a wallpaper of a large rectangular format, the abstract patterns of which can be felt through the paper. A technique and an inspiration from which we have very rare examples left, probably four or five works, all recorded by Claire Denis.
This piece is an example of Denis’s most famous aphorism: “A painting is essentially a plane surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”. It is audacious in its application of the Synthetism’s aesthetic: flat surfaces of plain colour, a radical simplification of shapes, absence of perspective, influence of Japonism.
Claire Denis have added this work to the catalogue raisonné in preparation.