Bonnard to Vuillard: The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life

The Nabi Collection of Vicki and Roger Sant

October 26, 2019 - January 26, 2020

[Paul Gauguin taught us] that every work of art was a transposition, a caricature, the passionate equivalent of a received sensation.
—Maurice Denis, 1920

In late fall of 1888 in Paris, a group of young, like-minded art students banded together after seeing a small abstract landscape by Paul Sérusier that he had made under the guidance of Paul Gauguin. Serusier’s boldly-colored composition, built up from broad patches of greens, yellows, blues, and reds arranged decoratively on the flat surface of a cigar box lid, marked a radical break from the naturalistic palette and broken brushwork of the Impressionists. 

By the time of their first exhibition in 1891, the group had assumed the moniker “The Nabis,” a transliteration of the Hebrew navi meaning “prophet.” Their visionary approach asserted the primacy of form and color as abstract equivalents of human feeling. The Nabis’ emphasis on an artistic language of suggestion was in sympathy with the ideals of Symbolist writers, poets, and musicians, with whom the Nabis closely collaborated.

Bonnard to Vuillard: The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life, drawn from the promised gift to the Phillips from the collection of Vicki and Roger Sant, explores rarely-seen works by some of the international group’s leading figures, including Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis, Aristide Maillol, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel, and Félix Vallotton. From painting and prints to stained glass, screens, tapestry, and ceramics, the works exemplify how the Nabis employed flat colors, decorative patterning, and silhouetted forms to convey their responses to the world. 

During their short-lived, yet fertile period of collaboration that lasted until around 1900, the Nabis created a wide range of imagery, from the mystical to the mundane, the witty to the sardonic. In seeking to break down the artificial barriers between the fine and decorative arts, the Nabis poignantly captured the poetry of everyday life as it played out in living rooms, street corners, gardens, and landscapes.

Exhibition catalogue
A catalogue of the same title, published by Rizzoli Electa in association with The Phillips Collection, accompanies the exhibition. Edited by exhibition curator Elsa Smithgall, it includes contributions by European modernism scholars Sarah Bertalan, Isabelle Cahn, Clément Dessy, Dorothy Kosinski, and Katherine M. Kuenzli. The richly-illustrated book features a conversation between the Sants and Phillips Collection Vradenburg Director & CEO Dorothy Kosinski, as well as essays exploring the role of the Nabis in the early histories of modern art, the influence of Symbolist poetry and literature, and the innovative techniques of Nabi printmaking.

Available in the museum shop

Organized by The Phillips Collection, this exhibition celebrates the transformative bequest from Vicki and Roger Sant. 

Presented by lead sponsors Dina and George Perry.

Brought to you by the generous support of John and Gina Despres, The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation, Mrs. Marion Rosenthal, Ken and Dorothy Woodcock, George Vradenburg and the Vradenburg Foundation, Katherine and David Bradley, and Louisa C. Duemling. 

Additional support provided by the Jacqueline and Marc Leland Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Albert H. Small.

In-kind support is provided by