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Currently shown
Maurice Denis

Model Seated with Her Back against a Tree

Artist

Maurice Denis
Granville, France, 1870 – Paris 1943

Title

Model Seated with Her Back against a Tree

Date

About 1906

Materials

Oil on wood

Dimensions

22.8 x 26.3 cm

Credits

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, inv. 2010.651

Collection

Western Art

This small panel is a free-form study for a large painting, Nymphs and Dryads, or Springtime in the Forest, produced near the Canes pond in the Forest of Saint-Germain, near Paris. The painter loved to visit this spot in the springtime to pick white anemones and blue hyacinths. This young girl among the flowers embodies the reawakening of nature, and the promise of a blossoming to come. With her timeless and immaculate dress, she symbolizes a sense of purity dear to the artist. In France and Germany, the arrival of spring has been symbolized since time immemorial by a girl dressed in white: the "May rose." This theme refers not only to classical and pagan iconographic traditions popular with the Symbolists (see Henner’s Bather here), but also Catholicism with its Gospel parables of the wise virgins. This pure young girl, waiting for love, whose composed and solemn presence animates the sacred woods, was painted as a tribute to his wife Marthe. The work is characteristic of Denis’ revival of the classical style between 1898 and 1918. For him, the academic workshop model had reached an impasse: a worn-out, straitjacketed canon, it symbolized an urban society that had become tainted. Here the artist is striving, with a sense of nostalgia, for a state of undefiled virginal humanity, in harmony and pantheistic communion with a Virgil-like Eden.

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