Art Term

Nabis

Les Nabis were a group of post-impressionist French painters active from 1888–1900 whose work is characterised by flat patches of colour, bold contours and simplified drawing

Pierre Bonnard, ‘In the Bathroom’ 1907
Pierre Bonnard
In the Bathroom 1907
Lent by a private collector 2005
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017
Paul Serusier
Roof Tops in Paris
Tate
Edouard Vuillard, ‘Landscape - House on the Left’ 1900
Edouard Vuillard
Landscape - House on the Left 1900
Tate

Some of its key members met at the Académie Julian in Paris, which offered a liberal alternative to the official École des Beaux Arts. Founded in secret by Paul Sérusier, the group included Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis. Their bold simplified style was inspired by Paul Gauguin’s synthetism. Their unconventional outlook led them to experiment with painting on different supports (surfaces used for painting or drawing on) including cardboard and velvet, and to create set designs for symbolist theatre (See symbolism).

Nabis comes from the Hebrew word for prophet. The term ‘Les Nabis’ was coined by the poet Henri Cazalis who drew a parallel between the way the group of painters aimed to revitalize painting (as prophets of modern art) and the way the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel.