The Nabis and Intimate Modernism : Painting and the Decorative at the Fin-de-Siècle book cover
1st Edition

The Nabis and Intimate Modernism
Painting and the Decorative at the Fin-de-Siècle

ISBN 9781138262119
Published March 29, 2017 by Routledge

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Book Description

Providing a fresh perspective on an important but underappreciated group of late nineteenth-century French painters, this is the first book to provide an in-depth account of the Nabis' practice of the decorative, and its significance for twentieth-century modernism. Over the course of the ten years that define the Nabi movement (1890-1900), its principal artists included Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, and Paul Ranson. The author reconstructs the Nabis' relationship to Impressionism, mass culture, literary Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Wagnerianism, and a revolutionary artistic tradition in order to show how their painterly practice emerges out of the pressing questions defining modernism around 1900. She shows that the Nabis were engaged, nonetheless, with issues that are always at stake in accounts of nineteenth-century modernist painting, issues such as the relationship of high and low art, of individual sensibility and collective identity, of the public and private spheres. The Nabis and Intimate Modernism is a rigorous study of the intellectual and artistic endeavors that inform the Nabis' decorative domestic paintings in the 1890s, and argues for their centrality to painterly modernism. The book ends up not only re-positioning the Nabis to occupy a crucial place in modernism's development from 1860 to 1914, but also challenges that narrative to place more emphasis on notions of decoration, totality and interiority.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Decorating the street, decorating the home: Bonnard's Women in a Garden and the poster; Wagner as intimist: Vuillard's Desmarais decoration and the symbolist theater; Modernism and Catholicism in Maurice Denis's Frauenliebe und Leben; Two versions of the Gesamtkunstwerk: the Nabis and the art nouveau interior; The art of reverie; Vuillard's Vaquez decoration and the Nabis' critical legacy; Conclusion: An armchair aesthetic: from the Nabis to Matisse and beyond; Bibliography; Index.

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Katherine M. Kuenzli is Associate Professor of Art History at Wesleyan University, USA.


'I know of nothing else that takes on the big issue of the Nabis' ultimate place in art history so forthrightly and courageously ... an innovative account that will really make a difference to how modernist art is narrated.' Martha Ward, University of Chicago, USA

'The Nabis raise more problems of art-historical definition and presentation than most comparable avant-garde groups, and there is a need for clarity. Their deliberately esoteric name, designed to set them apart from their contemporaries, is largely to blame: modern publishers have found it off-putting. Thus the appearance of Katherine Kuenzli’s serious and scholarly new study is welcome.' Burlington Magazine

'... an important book that contributes a new analysis of the relationships between art and design in modern times... First audiences for this excellent book include all interested in modernism, art history, design history, and French cultural studies... the potential impact of this book is significantly broad: Kuenzli provides a basis for re-evaluating what we think we know of twentieth-century art's emergence... Highly Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty.' Choice

'Kuenzli’s chapters result in original readings and insights... the book remains a central achievement, a study which situates several of the Nabi artists in the most profound aesthetic debates of their time. Moreover, this study convincingly shows how the work of these artists not only expressed but, in many cases, anticipated the very aesthetic debates of the fin de siècle. Copiously illustrated, clearly written, and persuasively argued, Kuenzli assuredly achieves her aim of restoring to these artists their crucial importance to painterly modernism and indeed to the larger history of modern art.' H-France

'Katherine M. Kuenzli's book, The Nabis and Intimate Modernism: Painting and the Decorative at the Fin-de-Siecle, makes a very strong case not only for the "intellectual seriousness" of the Nabi movement, but also for its modernism. In a series of interconnected essays, Kuenzli explores the intellectual ambitions as well as the contradictory aims of a group that produced mass-market posters as well as elite decorations. Readers will be struck by the tremendous lucidity of the book's arguments, especially as the author tackles the paradoxes and contradictions that attend the Nabi project... The Nabis and Intimate Modernism reveals the difficult and also contradictory aspirations for a decorative modernism that would be transformative. Katherine Kuenzli's persuasive arguments and subtle research paint a picture of a fin-de-siecle moment when an art based on pleasure, and on a dreamlike fusion of viewer and work, could embody an aesthetic that was thoroughly modernist.' Sehepunkte

'Kuenzli has not only made an essential contribution to the literature on the Nabis (not to mention modernism), but also at the same time provided a daring model for the intellectual benefits of erasing divisions between academic disciplines and art forms.' Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide

'This book makes a notable contribution both in its reading of the Nabis' decorative ensembles and in its advocacy of the group's importance to modern art.' French Studies

'In raising the question of the relationship between Nabi decorative painting and the self, Kuenzli's book is a welcome addition to the growing English-language literature on this important, if still ill-defined group of artists, and productively furthers the scholarship on the nature of the vexed relationship between decoration and modernism.'