Pierre Bonnard, L'Enfant à la lampe (Child with Lamp), 1896.
Pierre Bonnard, L’Enfant à la lampe (Child with Lamp), 1896, color lithograph on paper, Museum Purchase: Ella M. Hirsch Fund, © artist or other rights holder, 41.11.6

Private Lives

Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, 1890–1900

Oct 23, 2021 – Jan 23, 2022

Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, 1890–1900 explores the beautiful, enigmatic, and paradoxical work of Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis, and Félix Vallotton, four members of the Nabi Brotherhood. The Nabis were a group of young artists who were inspired by Paul Gauguin and the growing current of Symbolism in literature and theater. They sought to create an art of suggestion and emotion. Private Lives takes a close look at their paintings, prints, and drawings of home, family, and children, or what Bonnard referred to as the small pleasures and “modest acts of life.” Throughout their formative years in the 1890s, these four artists were deeply entwined in each other’s lives; Bonnard, Vuillard, and Denis shared a studio, and Swiss-born Vallotton became a close associate of all three and remained a lifelong confidant of Vuillard. Although their styles varied, each returned repeatedly to the motifs of home life, romantic love, and family. Yet the domestic world was not always what it seemed; suppressed secrets, hidden affairs, and familial tension bubble beneath the surface, challenging the viewer to construct the unspoken narrative of these small but powerful images of interiors, gardens, and the city of Paris.

Loans from the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Musée d’Orsay, as well as from many additional public and private collections, will feature in this exhibition alongside the rich holdings of Nabi material in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Portland Art Museum.

The exhibition is curated by Mary Weaver Chapin of the Portland Art Museum and Heather Lemonedes Brown of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Private Lives is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the Cleveland Museum of Art and Yale University Press. The catalogue features essays by the co-curators and vignettes by leading historians and art historians that offer insight into the private worlds of the Nabis: Francesca Berry of the University of Birmingham interrogates the Nabis and gender roles; Kathleen Kete of Trinity University reveals the importance of pets to private life in nineteenth-century France; Saskia Ooms of the Musée Montmartre describes the role of the camera in the personal world of these artists; and Francesca Brittan of Case Western Reserve University illuminates the centrality of music in constructing the bourgeois family home.