Now showing through January 26, 2020: Bonnard to Vuillard, The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life, The Nabi Collection of Vicki and Roger Sant
A generous gift from Phillips Collection supporters Vicki and Roger Sant, these rarely-seen works focus on a very small, but significant, window of time: the decade of the 1890s. And while we see familiar names — Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Félix Vallotton, Aristide Maillol — we immediately sense a departure from the Impressionism that we have come to know.
This group of artists didn’t present a traditional, naturalistic palette nor the broken, tender brushwork of delicate portraits and dreamy landscapes. Instead, they focused on abstract themes, using colour — quite boldly sometimes — and intricate, detailed patterns to express themselves. It was in 1891 that these artists assumed a nickname for their new direction: the “Nabis,” taken from the Hebrew navi meaning “prophet.”
“Embracing a new, liberating approach to art that rejected naturalism and valued the poetry of suggestion, the Nabis coalesced around a shared belief in art’s intimate ties to everyday life. These visionary artists who considered themselves ‘prophets’ exploited the expressive power of line and colour, forging a new path in modern art that helped fuel the development of abstract art,” explains Elsa Smithgall, Senior Curator at the Phillips.
While their subjects were often taken from la vie quotidienne — women at home, or ordinary street scenes — their interpretation brought new energy to these themes. Moreover, they went beyond the canvas to explore expressing themselves with ceramics, stained glass, textiles and more.
Enter the exhibit and you’re presented with Bonnard’s stunning screen in vivid scarlet red and other non-naturalistic colors. There’s no mistaking the Japanese influence here, and you’ll see other pieces with a similar tone as the Nabis appreciated the Eastern aesthetic. In fact, Bonnard was even nicknamed ‘le Nabi très japonard’ (the very Japanese Nabi) after creating several of these screens.
Vuillard’s Interior with Red Bed demonstrates another theme of the Nabis: a commotion of colours and intricate patterns all in one piece. The flecked wallpaper, the upholstered chairs, ornate clothing and the graphic detail of the carpet below. It’s all offset by the bold swath of crimson red bed linens.
Valloton’s painting Passerby presents a simple evening street scene, dominated by a fashionable figure dressed in a vibrant purple cape and hat, trimmed in bright green. The globe lights enhance the display in the grand windows at this shop with other shoppers presented in neutral colors.
The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street NW
Washington DC 20009
The full-price exhibition ticket is $12