Private Lives » Family Life

Family Life

Family life occupied a central role in the Nabis’ art. Their imagery depicting families allowed them to explore romantic love, maternal affection, and the joys of childhood. But far from being a sentimental retreat for the artists, these images of family life also offered an opportunity to examine nuance, conflict, and grief. 

Each artist approached the subject of the family in his own way: Maurice Denis brought a quasi-religious reverence to his “gracious Madonnas” depicting his beloved wife, Marthe, with their growing brood of children; Pierre Bonnard used a playful touch in his images of his nieces and nephews; Édouard Vuillard and Félix Vallotton suggested some of the estrangement between parents and children. The artists’ visual vocabularies differed, too, from the intentional gaucherie (clumsiness) of Bonnard’s exaggerated proportions to the icy precision of Vallotton’s crystalline forms. The range of the artists’ emotions and styles offers a glimpse into the complex and shifting terrain of family life and domestic ties. 


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Family Scene: Mother and Baby, 1892–93

Watercolor heightened with white gouache, over graphite
Jean-Luc Baroni, London 

This watercolor study for Family Scene offers a glimpse into the artist’s process, highlighting both his rapid draftsmanship and his investigations of color. The Nabis, like other Symbolist artists, believed that color and form were potent carriers of emotion. Thus, every line and hue must contribute to the emotional resonance of a work of art. Bonnard employed distortion and flattening to evoke feeling, as seen in the abstracted pattern of the dress of his sister, Andrée Terrasse, and in the expressive, wiggling lines of Jean’s gown. 

[Artwork description: This watercolor features the artist’s sister holding her infant son in a sparsely detailed, impressionistic style. In the left half of the picture, the female is shown from about the waist up, in profile, with her left arm holding her child. Her checkered dress is quickly rendered with red over blue dots alternating with broken lines. Her eye is merely a rectangular slash of grey with black scribbly lines and her hair is a solid mass of brown trailing off the upper right corner of the frame with one curl jutting out over her forehead. The baby occupies the middle to left side of the picture with just a suggestion of his body and a more fully rendered depiction of his round, bald head with two black eyes and grey/white squiggles for his nose and sparse hair on the sides of his head. A flat green background covers almost half of the top portion of the picture, edged on the far left with a light tan that continues on to form the background for the infant and roughly painted clothing. The artist’s initials appear twice in the upper left corner.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Family Scene, from L’Estampe originale, 1893

Color lithograph
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Nancy F. and Joseph P. Keithley Collection Gift 2020.150 

Significantly, Bonnard, who rarely included himself in his family pictures, added his own profile in the final version of Family Scene. The shy artist gave himself just a sliver of the composition, keeping the focus on baby Jean, born May 6, 1892.

[Artwork description: This lithograph features a tightly cropped view of three members of the artist’s family: his father, his sister, and between the two, the infant grandson. Against a flat tan background, the older man on the left appears in partial profile with just one ear and part of one eyeglass lens visible. His curling white and beige hair, which grows at the side of his bald head, trails out of the frame. His thick white beard adds texture to the print, in contrast to the flat black and tan clothing that is barely visible in the lower left-hand corner. The baby is the main focus of the piece. His round, hairless head has upward slanting almond-shaped eyes, a pug nose, and a mouth opened in a small “O.” Both chubby hands are curled in fists and his white swaddling gown encircles his head from the level of the eyes and continues flowing downward and off to the right side. The baby’s mother grips him with her left hand. Only her outstretched arm and part of her head are shown along the right side of the piece with the rest of her body disappearing out of the frame. Her head, filling the upper right corner of the print, shows both eyes, her nose, and a lock of hair rendered in heavy black paint.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Family Scene, 1892

Color lithograph
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (by exchange) 570.1951 

Although childless himself, Bonnard adored his sister’s children. Writing to Vuillard in 1892, he enthused, “I’m a thousand times more blown away by my nephew’s cute little face than by all that I’ve seen in my travels.” Bonnard delighted in capturing their candid expressions and odd proportions. Here, baby Jean is poised between his mother at the right and his grandfather, Eugène Bonnard. 

[Artwork description: This family portrait shows the artist’s sister, his infant nephew, and the artist himself in an intimate moment. The mother, shown in profile along the right edge of the frame, gazes down at her baby son, who occupies two-thirds of the left side of the print. The mother’s brown hair sweeps across her forehead and the side of her head with only her eye detailed. Her head rests on her vividly patterned dress, which is decorated with tan and putty colored plaid against a cream background. Her hand grips the baby, who is dressed in a white gown and whose face is fully detailed. He looks off toward the lower left corner of the frame, with one chubby hand in his field of vision. The artist’s self-portrait occupies a sliver of the lower right corner. We see his brown, parted hair, his profile with prominent nose, and his glasses. His putty colored garment covers much of his neck and trails off the bottom of the page. The trio is positioned against a light green background with a portion of a tree, rendered in tan with leaves outlined in a darker shade, only visible in the upper right corner.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Evening Party (Fan for Christine Lerolle), 1898

Watercolor
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Steven N. Spence 

Denis frequently depicted his devotion to his wife, Marthe (as seen in numerous paintings and prints in this gallery), but he was equally delighted to celebrate others’ romantic love. This fan-shaped watercolor was created as a gift for Christine Lerolle. She appears at right, extending her slim fingers toward the center of the composition to grasp the hand of her suitor, whose absent figure can be imagined in the void beneath the arch of the fan.

[Artwork description: Watercolor on paper in the shape of a fan. Partygoers in a bright yellow room with many of the women holding hand fans. Bright yellow, red, and green highlights pop amidst the light yellow color used to outline most of the women’s clothing. On the bottom left, a woman seen from behind, in a black gown with cap sleeves sits in a chair holding a bright red hand fan. Her black hair is pulled into an elegant bun and she wears a red rose above her left ear. Red furniture and green plants are seen to her left. In front of her three women stand in front of a stage or large painting. The backdrop consists of several yellow sun-like images. The first two women wear yellow gowns. The first has dark hair pulled into a bun with a rose above her right ear. The second has red hair pulled into a bun and is holding a red hand fan. The third has dark chin-length wavy hair and is wearing a black gown with cap sleeves. Behind her left elbow is a vase with red roses with bright green leaves. On the right a man in a black suit and dark hair bends down to talk with a woman with reddish blonde hair who is holding a bright red hand fan. On the far right a woman with black curly hair that is pulled back with a rose on her head reaches her hand out and places it into the hand of a person that is not seen. This woman takes up most of the far right side of the fan. In the bottom corner is a vase with bright red rose buds and green leaves.]


Maurice Denis

French, 1870–1943

Portrait of Marthe and Maurice, 1896

Oil on canvas
Private collection

In this, one of only two double portraits of the artist and his wife, Denis melds his personal life with his career as an artist. He depicts himself holding a palette in his left hand, while behind Marthe rests a canvas from his seven- panel suite The Love and Life of a Woman. In this way, Denis unites his twin passions for art and for Marthe.

[Artwork description: A portrait of a man and a woman fill the canvas. The woman is looking straight ahead and is positioned in the middle of the painting with her arms leaning on the back of a sofa. The man is on the right. We see his left shoulder and back, his right hand on the sofa, and his head turned toward the viewer. Between them is what appears to be the back of a piece of an upholstered sofa. It has a loose design of pink roses and green leaves. The woman is wearing a dress with a low-cut square neck with a black border. The greatly puffed sleeves are elbow length. They are light gray with black hatch marks and darker gray dots. The woman’s skin tone is light beige with rosy tints on the cheeks and forehead. She has reddish brown hair that flows back loosely from her face and curls around her ears and down her back. Her eyebrows are gently arched and the same color as her hair. Their arch continues down to form her slightly rounded nose. She has blue eyes that are looking into the distance. Her pink lips are curved softly upwards. The man is wearing a light brown shirt with a soft collar and a black tie. He seems to be looking directly at the viewer with blue gray eyes. His skin tone is slightly darker than the woman’s. His hair is a darker reddish brown and is combed back loosely to curve around his ear to the top of his collar. His eyebrows are dark and thicker than the woman’s. Their line continues down to form a straight nose. He has a mustache that droops at the corners, a goatee, and a short beard at his chin line that are the same color as his hair. The corner of an easel painted in swirls of brown is at the bottom center of the painting. Behind the woman’s head is an abstract painting in shades of gray, black and pink. The wall at the sides of the painting is black.]


Unknown artist
Portfolio for storing prints, 1900 

Half-vellum and batik-printed paper-covered folder
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1n 

Prints were considered among the most intimate of the arts during the 1800s because they were held in the hand and studied individually. One critic noted that prints “must be savored as one would a secret, away from the crowd, in quiet intimacy, with silent devotion.” Collectors commissioned special portfolios to house their prints, such as this example that was made to contain Maurice Denis’s suite of color lithographs, Love. 

[Artwork description: Art portfolio with tan binding and corners and a teal cover with dark gold filigree patterns resembling leaves. There are scratches and wrinkles in the cover showing the age and wear.]


Love 

Maurice Denis’s love for his wife, Marthe, is evident from the dawn of their courtship in 1890, which he chronicled in his journal. Late in the decade, he combined passages from his journal with 12 color lithographs to fulfill art dealer Ambroise Vollard’s commission for a suite of prints. Rather than depicting an unfolding narrative, Love suggests a range of moods and emotions. The titles of each print are an integral part of the project; suggestive and elusive, they call on the viewer to construct their own narrative. 

Many of the phrases that would become titles in Love appear in Denis’s journal entry of September 30, 1891: “Evening—Being in love makes one feel more beautiful. Attitudes are easy and chaste. Life becomes precious, discreet; twilights have the softness of old paintings. But it is the heart that beats too fast, truth to tell. One is good and merciful.” 


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Cover of Love, 1899

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1a 

[Artwork description: A naked woman is standing with her back to the viewer. She is facing a lush garden with her arms raised toward the sky. Her figure fills the length of the paper. She is standing on the right side of a small, round, light-brown hill. Her feet and lower legs are covered with a flowing white drape that goes to the bottom of the print. Three slightly curved branches grow from the top of the hill. They rise to the level of the woman’s armpits and then become thick with green leaves and white, rose shaped flowers. Behind the trees is a gray/blue wall. The woman’s body is slender and gently curved. Shades of light brown outline her cream-colored body. Her hair is simply drawn in curved dark green and brown lines into a small bun at the back of her neck. Curving across the print from right to left is an arch of light brown. It curves in front of the woman and the tree trunks at about the center of the print. Below and slightly above the curved arch there are shades of green that resemble thick foliage. White roses are in the foliage above the arch. Sprinkled below the arch are tiny white crossed lines arranged in a way that resemble flashes of light. Two white birds are on the left side. The lower one is lying on its back with outspread wings on top of the arch. The upper bird also has outstretched wings, and its beak is almost touching the lower one. Behind the upper bird is a black opening cut into the blue/gray wall.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Morning Bouquet, Tears 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1d 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a young woman in a flower garden in front of a house. The light-skinned woman stands on the bottom left in the lithograph. She has wavy brown hair that is pulled back. She faces to the right, but her head is turned looking out towards the viewer. Her eyes gaze downard and she has a petite nose and lips. She rests her chin gently on her left fingers. She reaches her right hand out toward a large rose colored flower that is encircled in green leaves. Below it two other blossoms extend out from green leaves. The garden behind her consists of green grass and a cream colored round pool. A large green tree with a brown trunk stands between the fountain and the house. The house is cream colored and has a dark window with wooden shutters. Green shrubs line the wall of the house. To the right of the tree, lines that appear to be a brown trellis with smaller shrubs extend to the edge of the house. Small rose colored letters at the bottom left of the lithograph read “Le Bouquet matinal, les larmes.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Attitudes Are Easy and Chaste 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1c 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a woman reclining on a couch while another woman prepares to place a floral garland on her head. The woman reclines on her side on the brown wicker and purple fabric couch. She appears to have a fluffy pillow or blanket behind her head. She is light-skinned and has wavy chin length brown hair. Her eyes are closed and she has a petite nose and pink lips. She rests her head on her bent right arm. Her left arm rests on her side with her hand on her hip. On the left side of the lithograph the other light-skinned woman with dark hair pulled back, wearing a flowing white sleeveless dress extends her arms outward, palms facing up holding the floral garland composed of pink and rose colored buds and green leaves. They are under a white gazebo that has purple vine-like flowers growing in the back middle, right side, and at the bottom left. Green grass and a light colored landscape are visible beyond the gazebo. A single word is written in rose on the bottom left of the lithograph.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Life Becomes Precious, Discreet 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1l 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a woman walking through a courtyard garden. The image is composed of mostly light, muted colors accented with dark shrubs and plants. The woman walks to the right in the middle of the lithograph. She is wearing a white, sheer dress with a long veil and a few green leaves on her head. She has light colored skin and her eyes are closed. To her left is a fountain with two lily plants with dark green stems and leaves and white blossoms. Behind it a half wall separates the garden from the side of the house that has a large window with dark grilles covered by tall shrubs. Behind the woman on the left side of the lithograph is a tall shrub and a trellis with green ivy climbing on it. Beyond it towards the top of the lithograph is the corner of the house with a large window with cream grilles.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Allegory 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1b 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of two women in the park. The first woman is light-skinned and has reddish brown hair pulled back in a bun. She has thin eyebrows, a long thin nose, and delicate pink lips. She is wearing a teal dress with white accents around the collar. She holds a rose colored bud with green leaves on her right shoulder with her left hand. Her fingers are extended, gently caressing the flower. She gazes downward at it. Behind her on the left another light-skinned woman with brown hair wears a long teal dress and a tan colored hat. A white figure is in the grass beyond her. Four trees with brown trunks and green triangular leaves fill the park. Another line of trees further back are light green and dark green with small white triangles throughout them. The sky is the same color of teal as the dresses and there are white clouds behind the leaves. There is small brown writing at the bottom left of the lithograph.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

It Was a Religious Mystery 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1e 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a woman kissing a young woman on the forehead. In the middle of the lithograph is a light-skinned young woman with long reddish brown hair. She wears a rose colored dress and holds her hands up in front of her, palms facing out. Her eyes are closed, head leaning forward slightly. She has prominent rose colored lipstick and blush. In front of her a woman is seen leaning into the right side of the lithograph. Her hands are clasped in front of her as if praying. Her eyes are closed, and she has dark lipstick on. She leans forward, her lips nearly touching the young woman’s forehead. Behind them is a window with a blue frame. Light seems to be streaming through the window casting a gentle glow over the lithograph. Faint light letters on the bottom right of the lithograph read “Ce fut un religieux mystère.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Twilights Have the Softness of Old Paintings 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1g 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper. A young light-skinned woman with long blondish red hair poses with her left hand on her hip as she gazes forward. She stands near the middle of the lithograph with her body facing to the left and her head turned looking forward. She has large eyes and a small petite nose and mouth. She is wearing a long dress with a scooped neck and frilled collar. The front of the dress is a rose color with cream dots and the back is a cream color with rose colored dots. A rose bush with cream and rose blossoms and green leaves grows near the bottom of her dress. The woman stands in front of a large green bush with triangular cream buds. Loosely defined cream colored buildings with dark windows are seen in the distance. A row of tall green trees runs between the buildings and the sky is orange. Small rose letters on the bottom left of the lithograph read “Les Crépuscules ont une douceur d’ancienne peinture.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

On the Pale Silver Sofa 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1k

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a young woman sitting on a couch with another woman reading behind her. The woman on the couch has light colored skin, wavy dark hair pulled back. She stares off into the distance with her arms crossed on her lap. She is wearing a red dress with green polka dots with checkered sleeves and collar. The couch is a cream color with blue, green, and red dots and squiggles. It has a rounded back with a dark edging on top. A yellow lamp shade gives light behind her head and the wall consists of layers of green, red, and yellow hashed lines. The woman in the back is light skinned and has dark hair that is pulled back. Her head is tilted slightly to the right and her eyes are closed. She holds an open book on the top of the couch. There is small black writing on the bottom left of the lithograph that is not distinguishable.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Our Souls, in Languorous Gestures 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1j 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of two women at a piano. The woman in the foreground stands at the end of the piano on the right side of the lithograph. She has light colored skin, red hair pulled into a bun, and is wearing a black dress. She rests her right arm on the piano and holds a pink rose. Her left elbow rests on the piano and she rests her chin on her open hand, bent at the wrist. Her eyes appear to be closed. Another light-skinned woman with brownish red hair pulled back sits behind the piano. Her gaze is fixed at the sheet music on the piano. There is a tablecloth over the piano that is a deep rose color with an intricate black design. There is a large gold lamp with a base shaped like a vase on the left with a gold and black lampshade with frilly edges. The wall in the background is a deep rose color and there are two roses partially visible on the top right of the lithograph.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

The Knight Did Not Die in the Crusade 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1f 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a woman standing in a courtyard looking out past the wall while a man stands by a horse outside the arched entry. The light-skinned woman is at the bottom right of the lithograph, facing to the right, gazing into the distance. She has light reddish brown hair pulled into a low pony tail and is wearing a dark shirt. She rests her hands on the wall of the courtyard, looking out the arched window that has thin round pillars with bulbs on top. She stands on a black and white checkered floor. To her left is a large square pillar with a round decoration on top and an archway on either side. A figure that is barely distinguishable in white stands next to a white horse who wears a white bard on its chest. Dark shrubs and trees are seen in the distance under a dark sky with big white clouds. Small dark letters on the bottom left side of the lithograph read “Le Chevalier n’est pas mort à la croisade.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

She Was More Beautiful Than Dreams 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1h 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a woman posing partially nude and holding flowers in front of trees. The light-skinned woman fills the right side of the lithograph and she is facing to the left. She has long, flowing dark brown hair and dark rose colored lips. Her light colored eyes are barely visible and she gazes into the distance. She has a flowing white sheer dress that falls just below her breast line. Her left breast and nipple are visible at the bottom of the lithograph. In front of her is a bouquet of five cream and rose colored rosebuds. In the distance the outlines of seven trees with thin trunks and dark leaves stand in front of an orange sky. Dark gray letters on the bottom left of the lithograph read “Elle était plus belle que les rêves.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

And It Is the Caress of Her Hands 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1i 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on cream paper of a woman extending her hand to a man who is gently kissing it. The light-skinned woman has reddish brown hair parted in the middle and pulled back. She is wearing a flowing white dress with puffy long sleeves and black squiggles on it. Her head is at the top right of the lithograph and part of the left side of her body is out of the frame. Her left hand rests on her chest as she holds two orange roses with green leaves. She gazes downward, has orange tinted lips and a gray smudge as a nose, and is wearing orange earrings. Her right arm is extended and her fingers are held gently by the man. He also has reddish brown hair and just his head is visible in profile showing his lips gently kissing the top of her hand. They stand on a patch of green with a road behind them. Across the road are green patches that appear to be small shrubs. A tree with green leaves fills the top left corner. Beyond it a blue sky with white clouds and an orange and brown landscape can be seen. There are small gray letters on the bottom left of the lithograph reading “Et c’est la caresse de ses mains.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

But It Is the Heart That Beats Too Fast 

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in honor of Diane Davies Burke 2016.90.1m 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on tan paper of a woman sitting in a chair in front of a window overlooking the sea. Her eyes are closed and her head is tilted slightly to the right. The woman has long, straight brown hair that is parted on the right side of her head. She wears a long, flowing dress that appears nearly sheer. She rests her left hand flat against the right side of her chest and her right arm falls to her side and becomes indistinguishable from her dress. She is wearing nylons with small tan dots and black pointed shoes. She sits on a blue chair that rests on a blue wooden floor. There are dark masses on the bottom corners of the lithograph. To the right of the woman, the window frame is the same blue as the chair. Bright sun is seen in the window with a landscape that could be a sandy beach and light reflecting off the water. Small writing in black letters appears on the bottom left, but is not distinguishable.]


Édouard Vuillard 

French, 1868–1940 

The Painter Ker-Xavier Roussel and His Daughter, 1903 

Oil on cardboard
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1943 RCA1943:17 

Vuillard painted numerous canvases of his niece, Annette, either alone or with her mother or grandmother. This is his only father-daughter portrait. The image telegraphs isolation rather than familial comfort, in keeping with the tensions of the Roussel household, attributable to Ker-Xavier’s infidelities and the death of two of his and Marie’s infants. Annette gazes at her uncle (i.e., Vuillard) with a warm smile, but seems cut off from her father at the left, who stares past the girl and into the distance. 

[Artwork description: A small girl stands in the center of this oil painting, she is central, but quite small and blends into her surroundings. She has a very large white bonnet with a bow under her chin and a red and white striped dress with layers of ruffles near the bottom. She has pale wheat colored skin and her blue eyes gaze directly at the viewer. Her lips are red and thin, and her hair a dark blonde. A man in an unbuttoned blue shirt and white pants sits a f]


Félix Vallotton 

Swiss, 1865–1925 

The Red Room, Étretat, 1899

Oil on artist’s board
The Art Institute of Chicago, Bequest of Mrs. Clive Runnells 1977.606 

Unlike his Nabi friends, who infused tenderness and warmth into their depictions of maternity, Vallotton brought a cynical eye to such works, noting the estrangement between adults and their tiny charges. Here, his wife, Gabrielle, watches over her niece, who shreds a piece of paper at her feet. The chilly emotional remove and the child’s destructive act cast a pall of tension over the composition. 

[Artwork description: This horizontal painting depicts Gabrielle Vallotton seated in a red armchair in a red room with a small child playing at her feet. Gabrielle sits with her back to a balck and white tiled fireplace and appears to gaze down at the child. She sits in a upolstered chair with dark wood arms. Gabrielle wears a long burgandy dress with a high neck, long sleeves and a gray bodice and a wide gray sash at the waist. Her hands rest in her lap with her elbows resting on the chair arms. Her gaze in downcast towards the child, her skin is light peach colored and she has her dark hair piled on top of her head. The gray sash drapes over her lap and falls to the floor where the blonde child is sitting on a patterned carpet. The child has light skin and blonde short hair and appears to be tearing white paper into small pieces. Most of the upper right of th epainting depicts the deep red walls of the room and a bed dressed in a similar color red. A dark cylindrical table stands at far right and holds a single brass candlestick and lit candle.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Birth Announcement for Nöele Denis, 1896

Color lithograph
Private collection 

[Artwork description: The colors used in this lithograph are pale green and cream. The border at the top and sides are cream. The design inside the border shows a woman holding a baby under its arms. The woman is wearing a green jacket, and there is a background of green inside the border. The mother and child are cream colored with features outlined in green. The woman’s hair is pulled softly back from her forehead and curves to her shoulders. She is looking down toward the baby. The lines of her gently curved eyebrows continue down to form her nose. Her lips are smiling. The baby is looking out in ¾ profile. We can see her round head and left ear. She has a small straight nose and mouth. The mother’s hand is under her left shoulder. Both of the baby’s hands are touching the mother’s collarbone area. She is wearing a long white dress that flows to the same level as the bottom of the mother’s jacket. All the information about the birth is written at the bottom of the paper. There are five lines all written in green. The first line begins where the jacket and bottom of the baby’s gown end. The name of the parents and child are in larger and darker print than the rest.]


Birth Announcement for Anne Denis, 1901 

Color lithograph
Private collection 

[Artwork description: Color lithograph on tan paper with reddish brown ink. The mother lays on her back on a couch and holds baby Anne up above her waist. The mother has dark hair that is pulled back with curly bangs in the front. She wears a loose, following dress and gazes at Anne. Anne wears a light colored long-sleeve dress. Her hands hang down and she gazes towards her mother. The wall behind them is covered in wallpaper consisting of thin vertical red stripes. Red letters on the top read “De la part de Monsieur et Madame Maurice Denis en souvenir de la n aissance de leur fille ANNE.” Red letters on the bottom read “ S’Germain en Larje R. de Mareri 59. Le 12 Septembre 1901.”]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Birth Announcement for Marthe Mellerio, 1896

Color lithograph
Private collection 

[Artwork description: The colors on this lithograph are shades of gold and cream. The background is a light gold. The lettering is a darker gold, and the design is cream. The design shows the head and neck of a woman leaning over and looking down at a baby lying on its back. She is leaning in from the left side of the paper. Her face is in profile. Her hair is pulled back softly from her forehead and pulled into a loose bun at the back of her neck. Her right-hand droops casually next to the baby’s head. The baby’s face is directly under the woman’s chin. Its eyes are open and seem to be looking at something in the distance. The blanket flows down to the bottom of the paper and has a lace design. There is a cream border and two thin, dark gold lines at the bottom that separate the border from the blanket area. The date is written above these gold lines on the left side. An address is on the right side. The rest of the information is written on the upper part of the design. “Monsieur et” are written above the bun on the left side of the woman’s head. The rest of the writing is to the right of her bowed head. There are six lines. The writing is small except for the name of the parents and the name of the child. Marthe is written very large at the level of the baby’s head.]


Birth Announcement for Bernadette Denis, 1899 

Color lithograph
Private collection 

[Artwork description: A light gray rectangle is printed with green ink in the center leaving four borders of gray. The announcement of the birth is printed in the top border. Below this is a green background. On the left side is a white rectangle with the baby’s name, Bernadette, printed in large letters in green. Below the name is a bouquet of flowers. To the right of the name, a woman’s head is raised up slightly from a pillow and is looking down at a naked infant that is being held by a girl who is beside the bed. The woman is lying under a quilt with only her head and hands showing. Her hair is shoulder length and pulled back loosely from her forehead and curves forward at her chin. The quilt has a pattern of green stripes and flowers. The girl’s head is in profile. Her hair is pulled back loosely into a bun. Only her upper back and shoulders are above the lower border. She is wearing a dress with dots. Her right hand is under a blanket. On the blanket is a naked infant with its head toward the girl and feet toward the bed. The knees are bent and left arm is outstretched. The face is in profile with no facial features. Lettering on the bottom border tells the place and date of the birth. Small flowers are printed on all four borders.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Infant on a Cabbage Leaf, about 1890

Brush and black ink over graphite
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of R. E. Lewis Inc. 1966.76 

In this design for a birth announcement, Bonnard depicts a newborn atop a cabbage leaf, in playful reference to the French folktale that babies are found under cabbages, just as they are said to be delivered by storks in other cultures. 

[Artwork description: This pencil and ink drawing depicts a naked infant with downward gaze lying on a cabbage leaf. The subject’s scalp is lightly shaded with squiggly lines denoting hair while only about a quarter of the face is shown with curving marks suggesting eyes, eyebrows, and nose. The arms are spread out at shoulder height, slightly bent and with fingers extended. The legs are bent at the knee and the toes are outlined but with few details, as is the case with the fingers. The head and torso are heavily outlined. The veins of the leaf are drawn with fluid, wavy lines and a few heavier branches. The ruffled-edge leaf is cut out and mounted on a lighter background and shadows are drawn in grey, giving the piece a three-dimensional quality.]


Pierre Bonnard 

French, 1867–1947 

Birth Announcement for Marie-Louise Mellerio, 1898 

Color lithograph
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Louise S. Richards 1991.248 

André Mellerio was an art critic, a publisher, and an advocate for the Nabi artists. In Denis’s design for the announcement of the birth of Mellerio’s daughter Marthe (on view nearby), the artist captures the intense gaze that bonds mother and child. In Bonnard’s design for the subsequent daughter, Marie-Louise, all attention is on the infant, whose profile merges into the decorative floral design and flowing text. 

[Artwork description: Lithograph of a birth announcement on cream paper. Loose red lines make up the profile of an infant laying on her stomach, head facing to the right. Red organic lines around the baby’s face and have a floral feeling to them. Fine red lines make up the folds of the baby’s shirt. The text of the announcement is scripted on the left side of the baby’s head.]


Birth Announcements 

Both Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis made original lithographs that were used as birth announcements. Denis, the father of nine children, had ample opportunity for such occasions, and while Bonnard never had children, he made announcements for friends and family. Their shared fondness for infants is evident in these winsome designs, but the artists used different styles to evoke a range of emotions, while addressing the same subject matter. Bonnard depicts the infant as a solitary creature, a creation unto itself, whereas Denis focuses on the web of connections between the infant, mother, and extended family. 


Édouard Vuillard 

French, 1868–1940 

The Birth of Annette, 1899

Color lithograph
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in Memory of Agnes Mongan 2017.62.3 

Vuillard was greatly affected by the birth of his niece, Annette. She was born following the still birth of one baby in 1894, and the death of another infant in 1895. Thus, Annette’s safe arrival was greeted with great joy by the Vuillard family. Here, the artist depicts his sister with the tiny newborn. Unlike the close-up views favored by Bonnard, Vuillard observes from a distance, granting the mother and child their privacy, and, perhaps, indicating his trepidation of the fragility of the tiny girl. 

[Artwork description: This lithograph is very faint and uses pastel ink colors, primarily pink and green. There is a lot of white space including the suggestion of a headboard, the edges of the lithograph and the woman’s clothing. In the center of the lithograph, a woman is cradling a tiny baby on a bed. She is seated on the bed, in profile and leaning forward. She is dressed in loose fitting white clothing. She has auburn hair and a pink face, you can see she is gazing at the tiny pink faced baby in her arms wrapped in white blankets. The bedding is highly patterned and the lower portion of the bed is covered with a pink and blue striped cover, there are white sheets on top of that and then a pink and green floral duvet on the top. In the background is a partitioning screen made with green scratch marks and a pink frame. and the white walls have short green scratches and pink dots creating a wallpaper pattern in the room. The density of these marks is highest closest to the bed and spaces out to the exterior of the lithograph.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Maternity in Mercin, about 1896–97

Oil on cardboard
Musée départemental Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Denis family donation PMD 976.1.126 

The close-up view of baby Bernadette, in which the round, smiling expression of the child takes center stage, aligns this painting with Bonnard’s gently comic views
of maternity. Unlike many of Denis’s mother-and-child images in which the figures seem unaware of the viewer, here Marthe and Bernadette meet the artist’s gaze, and Bernadette seems to be communicating with her father and with the viewer. 

[Artwork description: Three women are outdoors on a sunny day. On the left side of the painting a woman is sitting on the grass with a baby on her lap. On the right side are two smaller figures. These are both standing in profile and are looking down at a blanket held in the right arm of the woman closer to the center. The seated woman and child fill the entire left side of the painting. Her right shoulder and the top of her head extend out of the canvas at the side and top. She has an oval face and red curly hair. Her skin is a grayish/purple with darker gray eyebrows. Her eyes are blue and seem to be looking at the viewer. Her lips are pink, and she is smiling. The baby’s head is at the mother’s chin level and is right in the middle of the painting. The head is round and bald, and the hands are balled into little fists. The skin is a bit pinker than its mother’s. The eyes are round and are looking at us. The lips are slightly smiling. Both mother and baby are wearing clothing that is pale green with darker green highlights and white dots. The mother’s dress has a square neck and long sleeves that are puffed at the shoulders. The baby is wearing a long dress and a bib. The two women on the right are dressed in shades of blue. The one nearer the center is wearing a blue scarf and a dress of a lighter blue with white dots. She is holding a blanket of white with black stripes in her right arm. The other woman is standing at the right edge of the painting with half of her figure outside of the picture frame. She is wearing a light blue dress with puffy sleeves. Their skin is a grayish pink shade. The background from left to right has green trees, a pale-yellow sky, and a square house. Between the baby’s left arm and the right arm of the standing woman is a patch of road painted with gray and pink dots. All the figures have a soft, blurred look while the background is more clearly outlined.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Washing the Baby, 1899

Oil on canvas
Private collection 

Denis’s many mother-and-baby paintings and prints form a corpus of their own, what one contemporary critic called his “gracious Madonnas.” Here, Marthe gives Bernadette a sponge bath. Denis captures the emotions of the sitters, evoking Marthe’s loving touch as well as Bernadette’s surprise and delight as she plays with her toes. 

[Artwork description: Tightly cropped, colorful painting of a young woman sitting in a large red chair giving a baby a sponge bath. The light-skinned woman has reddish brown hair that is curly and pulled into a bun. She has fine features and looks down at the baby. She wears a light blue dress with dark blue vertical stripes resembling zebra stripes. The dress has a square neck and puffy sleeves. She holds the baby with her left hand under the baby’s left arm and holds a sponge on the baby’s head with her right hand. The light-skinned baby has short blonde hair, rosey cheeks, and is wearing a white shirt. The baby looks to the left with right hand outstretched playing with the toes. The baby’s left arm is bent at the elbow and held against its chest and its left leg hangs off the woman’s knee. There is a teardrop shaped white object with red stitching along the edge and a white blanket laying on the red chair. The wall in the background is black and a sliver of a window or a painting is visible at the top of the painting.]


Maurice Denis 

French, 1870–1943 

Maternity with Lace Cuffs, 1895

Oil on cardboard
Rennes, Museé des Beaux-Arts INV1978.12.1 

Denis painted several images of his wife, Marthe, breastfeeding their infants. At the time, there was a lively political debate about the importance of women suckling their own children (rather than sending them to wet nurses, as was the custom). Denis was more likely inspired by religious iconography of the Madonna and Child than by contemporary discourse. For him, the mother-child bond was quasi-sacred, and he used these canvases to evoke emotions of tenderness, love, and awe. 

[Artwork description: A woman nursing her infant is the central figure. She is wearing a dark robe with puffy sleeves. Both arms are bent with the elbows extending outside of the picture frame. She is sitting with her right elbow resting on the padded arm of a chair. Her right forearm is behind the back of the baby. The baby’s head is also resting on the chair arm. The cylindrical shape of the swaddled baby slants down to the bottom edge of the painting on the right side. The mother is looking down at the baby with closed eyes and a serene, quiet expression. Her robe is open at the neck and shows the soft swelling of her right breast. The baby’s face is pressed to the breast. Its tiny hand touches the breast, and the fore finger of the mother’s left hand just touches the baby’s hand. The open edge of the dark magenta robe is trimmed with white, and it has white cuffs. The cuffs are about two inches wide and are smooth at the wrist but have a rough upper edge to give the appearance of lace. The woman’s hair is light brown and curves softly back from her forehead and then curves slightly forward at neck level. Her face, hands, and breast are all painted in light shades of brown. Her eyebrows, nose, and mouth are softly outlined in a slightly darker shade of brown. The baby’s hair is reddish brown and appears to be very short and soft. The baby is wearing a pink shirt with a soft white collar. From the waist down, the baby is wrapped in a blanket of pale green with thin, blue stripes. In the upper left quarter of the painting is an open door painted in a pale green. Behind the mother’s head is a dark brown wall with two windows. The windows reveal a garden of green and yellow geometric shapes. Above the garden at the top edge of the painting is a patch of blue with pink dots.]

 

Private Lives » Family Life