For Nabi artists, gardens were not only pleasing to the senses but also beneficial to physical and emotional health. Before the industrial revolution, gardening for pleasure had been a luxury available only to the wealthy. However, with the rise of the middle class during the 1800s, gardening became a fashionable pastime and a vital aspect of modern life.
The garden played an important role in the personal lives and the art of Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Édouard Vuillard. The orchard and gardens of Le Clos (the Orchard), the Bonnard family home in Le Grand- Lemps in southeastern France, were a pastoral retreat and regular subject for the artist throughout his Nabi years. Denis frequently turned to the garden at his home in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, northwest of Paris, as a theme in his art. Although the urbanite Vuillard never had his own garden, he painted those of his friends. Nabi gardens were outdoor living spaces inhabited by family, friends, and pets. Their depictions of gardens brought the natural world indoors, knitting the green spaces of nature into the fabric of the interior.
The False Step, ca. 1891
Black ink and watercolor
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Karen B. Cohen Gift, Harry G. Sperling Fund, and Bequest of Clifford A. Furst, by exchange, 1995 1995.360
This watercolor relays the pitfalls of a garden walk; Bonnard’s sister, Andrée Terrasse, pauses in her stroll to steady herself against a tree as she removes a stone lodged in her shoe. Daringly, Bonnard rendered the tree in blue; at first glance it looks like a stream of water flowing from the top to the bottom of the composition. The natural setting of the garden seemed to invite Bonnard’s most playful approach to his art.
[Artwork description: This watercolor shows the artist’s sister removing a stone from her shoe while leaning on a tree in a garden setting. The figure is centered in the frame and takes up about 4/5ths of the vertical plane of the painting. The figure is clad in a dark blue dress with a frilly hem. Only her eyes and nose are visible as she tilts her head downwards. Her brown hair is piled loosely on top of her head. As the woman supports herself against the trunk of the tree with her raised right hand, her head and body twist toward the right. Her left arm extends down, elbow slightly bent, with her hand gripping the toe of a black pump. She stands on her left foot, which is shod in a matching shoe, while her bare right foot is raised slightly off the ground. The tree trunk is painted in patches of light and dark grey with one curving root at the bottom and one limb trailing off the right side of the painting. The tree is outlined in black, as is the figure, and black lines suggest the bark of the tree. A flat, light green lawn comprises the background. There is no horizon line and the only details are small black ovals suggesting leaves in the upper right of the painting, adjacent to the limb, and a few black outlined shapes suggesting flowers in the lower right. The painter’s initials (PB) are in heavy black letters in the top right quadrant of the picture.]
Woman with a Dog, ca. 1892
Watercolor, ink, and graphite
Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, Purchased in memory of Frederic A. Bill 47.D02
The checkered pattern of the dress worn by Bonnard’s sister, Andrée Terrasse, contrasts with the sinuous lines that describe the lively dog. Bonnard was at his most playful when drawing animals and children, as if they, untethered by the rules of polite society, allowed him total artistic freedom.
[Artwork description: This watercolor shows the artist’s sister in a vividly checkered dress bending towards her dog, which is depicted in minimalistic form with the body and a few interior features outlined in black. About half the picture is a riot of red, orange, and tan colors while the rest is flat white broken with only a few gray and black spots and leaf-like splotches. The female figure dominates the left half of the picture and bends at the waist so that the top part of her body and head extend over almost the entire top quarter of the frame. Her floor-length, high necked dress is completely covered with bold orangish-red, purplish-tan, and beige checks. Her right arm hangs down her side and her face is oriented downwards toward the dog who is pawing at her feet. The woman’s hair matches the purplish-tan of her dress and also the leaf-like forms that, together with orangish masses, decorate the very top of the frame and extend behind and below her head along the upper right side of the picture. The dog is centered at the bottom of the picture with his rump in the air, tail wagging, and right paw stretched out to touch the bottom part of the woman’s dress. His snout is drawn with a jagged outline while the rest of his body is one fluid line.]
Women with a Dog, 1891
Oil and ink on canvas
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts 1979.23
The garden at Le Clos (the Orchard), the Bonnard family home in Le Grand-Lemps in southeastern France, is the setting for this view of Bonnard’s sister, Andrée Terrasse; his cousin Berthe Schaedlin; and the beloved family poodle, Ravageau. The proximity of the three alludes to their kinship.
A group of three onlookers hover amid the greenery in the upper left corner, and three large yellow flowers locate the scene in the garden.
[Artwork description: This flat, heavily patterned outdoor scene is dominated by a tightly cropped diagonal view of two women kneeling to play with a dog while three smaller figures look on in the upper left corner. The most prominent feature of the painting is the blue and purplish plaid of the dress of the young woman in the near foreground. Her arm, with pinkish skin, is extended toward the dog’s front paw but we don’t see her hand, presumably petting the animal. Atop the plaid dress is a polka dotted scarf that obscures the figure’s neck. Her face is painted in a deep pink and there is minimal detail in the facial features. Her brunette hair is piled atop her head with one large forelock in the center of her face and two swirling, lighter-tone marks suggesting a bun. Crouching behind her, with a hand clutching the first woman’s shoulder, is a young woman in a deep blue dress with multiple folds. Her curly blonde and red hair has wildly flowing locks that almost cover her forehead and extend out into the painting’s background. The dog in the far right corner is shown in profile and appears perched on its hind legs, which aren’t shown, with the two front paws extended. One long floppy ear and the dog’s coat are dappled with yellow, tan, and reddish splotches that echo the flowers that are growing along the front bottom edge of the frame on the left side. In the background, three males look on but only their upper bodies are shown and none has facial details drawn in. The artist’s signature and the date are prominently shown on the dog’s coat in the lower right corner.]
Two Poodles, 1891
Oil on canvas
Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK 60/1963
In this spare composition, two dogs romp on a patch of verdant grass bedecked with pink flowers. The lawn is described with a repeating pattern of arabesques that suggests wallpaper that would have decorated a Nabi interior, underscoring the domestic garden as an extension of the private living space of the house.
[Artwork description: The two pets in this oil painting frolic on a lawn, occupying practically the entire frame. The poodle on the left side is curled almost in a ball, lying on its back with the head in profile, its four paws and tail reaching upwards and the left ear flying out of the frame. A yellow dot denotes the eye, while a black dot signifies its nose and its mouth is a whitish circle. The poodle on the right stands on its hind legs looming over the second dog with its back curved so that the two animals almost appear together as a circle. As with the poodle on the left, few details are depicted. The second poodle’s ear extends out of the top of the painting and its tail disappears at about the middle of the right side of the frame. A black dot for the nose is the only facial feature included. Both dogs have dark brown textured coats with black undertones. The background is several shades of green with a scalloped pattern providing texture. In the upper right corner are two pink flowers with dark brownish-black tree limbs trailing out of view.]
In the Snow, or Education of the Dog, from L’Estampe originale, 1893
Portland Art Museum, Gift of James D. Burke in memory of James D. Kenney 2016.90.2
Roussel, a fellow Nabi married to Vuillard’s sister, Marie, was likely familiar with Bonnard’s images of women with dogs in garden settings. This scene of a woman training a willful pup is set in a snowy expanse bordered by trees.
[Artwork description: A vertical print depicted two women and a dog in a snowy landscape with trees in the distance. The first woman appears in the foreground from the waist up with her head turned right. She is shown in profile with small eyes, short eyebrows, turned up nose and tiny mouth. Her skin is a peachy tan color, and she wears she dark hair rolled up around the crown of her head exposing her small ear. She wears a high-necked black blouse with full sleeves and a deep round white collar and a broach at her throat. She holds one peach hand to her chest and she fills more than a quarter of the lower portion of the print. Behind the woman, at center right, another woman in a long black dress bends at the waist and waves a finger at a small gray dog. She holds the dog’s leash in her other hand while the dog stands on its hind legs. In the far background is a dense hedge that continues across the entire print. In front of the hedge stand five thin tree trunks spaced with four at left and center and a single trunk far right. The trunks are dark at their bases, lighten to white then continue to peach on the upper trunks. The print has a hand drawn quality with markings evident on the women, trees and hedge. The ground is is a pale peach color representing snow.]
The Glazed Archway at Ker Panurge, 1908
Gouache and distemper on paper mounted on canvas
Portland Art Museum, Millennium Gift of Sara Lee Corporation 2000.55
In this composition, Vuillard emphasized the seamless flow of life from the interior into the private garden. The sparkling wall of windows reflects blue sky, clouds, and vegetation, suggesting a harmonious blend of interior and exterior. Outdoor furniture, including a green park bench and a rug at the doorway, extends the living space into the out-of-doors.
[Artwork description: A painting dominated by soft warm peach tones with gestural brushstrokes and many suggestions of what things might be. The foreground is the ground outside of a building and is a field of peach and cream tones. The left half of the painting is a building with the roofline cut off but suggesting that it might be a rounded roofline. Nearly the entire side is made of windows, small squares of glass are represented by marks of dark and light blue, white, green, cream and tan. The windows are 4 wide by 4 tall on each of the doors, and 14 across the top on the very bottom row. On the ground in front of the opening is a gray rectangle, with a smaller darker gray rectangle on top of that. The doors are open reveling a scene inside of a woman and a child and an infant seated on a bench and a small white animal on the ground next to them. The woman is wearing a tan colored shirt and matching hat, white bottoms, and holding a small infant wrapped loosely in a white blanket. Facing her is a small boy, none of their features are distinguished but they have amber colored skin and dark hair. Recognizable in the room are a wooden chair and the edge of a wardrobe. The wall is made up of cream, pink and blue swirling lines and the floor is salmon with pale pink swirls. Next to the wall of windows and doors is more building, but a solid salmon colored wall with white swirls all over it. To the right of the building is a pink rectangle, with some white squiggles beneath it and green wispy lines next to it in the shape of a tree.]
Motherhood by the Sea, or Motherhood at Pouldu, from the album Das Mappenwerk der Insel (Album III), 1900
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) p1287V2000
Maurice and Marthe Denis honeymooned in Brittany, and in subsequent years they returned to various seaside towns with their children. During the summer of 1899, the Denis family vacationed in Le Pouldu, whose coastal views inspired the setting for this composition of Marthe and baby Bernadette. As in his garden scenes, Denis’s seascape blends the interior world of the family with the natural world.
[Artwork description: Color lithograph on tan paper of a mother holding an infant in front of a window looking out onto the sea with boats in the distance. The colors are muted and the lithograph is framed by the window frame including an open shutter on the right side. The mother has long brown hair that is parted in the middle and pulled into a low bun. She is wearing a dark red shirt. Her eyes are closed and she rests her lips on the infant’s head. The infant is wearing a light colored shirt and lays back with its eyes closed. The sea in the background is a light green with dark green waves. Behind the mother’s head on the left are two small brown row bots. Near the top of the lithograph on the right is a brown sailboat. Beyond the sailboat is land depicted by white square patches with brown outlines and small red dots.]
The Reflection in the Fountain, from Album of Original Prints from the Vollard Gallery, 1897
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Jean Y. Roth Memorial Fund 2016.5.1
In this enclosed garden, a nude female figure enters the pool of a small fountain. The title references the bather’s companion, whose spotted blouse is reflected on the shimmering surface of the water. This type of pool was often found in domestic gardens of the period.
[Artwork description: An adolescent girl is stepping into a round pool while a woman sits on the grass near the pool. The pool is placed a little below center and has a creamy colored edge with hints of beige and blue. The righthand side of the pool is cut off at the right side of the print. At the left side of the pool, a nude girl is stepping into the water with her left leg. She is leaning forward slightly, and her right knee is just coming over the edge. Her left foot is visible under the water. The girl has greenish-yellow hair that is pulled back loosely from her face and tied into a loose bun. A woman is sitting on the grass above the pool at the right side of the print. She is sitting with her legs tucked under her. Her face is turned in profile toward the direction of the girl. She is wearing a gray skirt and a white shirt with a round neck. Over the shirt is a white blouse with green dots, full elbow-length sleeves, and a deep V neck that extends to her waist. Her left hand is on the grass and her right hand is in her lap. Her hair is pulled back loosely and is blue/green with a bit of gray. Both women have quiet, neutral expressions. At the right edge of the painting are two thin tree trunks that are behind and beside the woman’s left arm. They are gray with fine blue lines and continue up to disappear at the top of the print. On the grass between the woman’s skirt and the girl’s head is a potted plant. The body of the vase is white and decorated with a blue design. The base is the same color as the edge of the pool. A green plant with simple curved leaves is growing in the pot. Both the pot and the woman’s blouse and skirt are reflected in the pool. A green bush is in the center foreground. To its left is another bush with more delicate leaves. Behind the girl’s right leg is a patch of white. The edge of the grass curves around behind the seated woman, the potted plant, and the girl’s head and body to form a rounded line that ends at the middle left side of the print. The grass is a blue-green color. Above the grass line is a curved path that has the same colors as the pool edge and plant base. A plant with delicate leaves is on the left side of the path. A wall in shades of blue and white is behind and above the plant. A white door with two blue rectangular windows is at the top center. The upper right side of the print has olive green shrubs that begin just above the woman’s head. Above the shrubs, blue green vegetation continues to the top of the print.]
Child with Apron, or Little Girl in a Red Dress, 1897
Oil on board
Denis used repetitive, broad dashes of pink and red paint to describe both the bed of flowers and the checked dress worn by the little girl, thereby suggesting a kinship between childhood and nature. His child-like technique of simple daubs evokes the painting style of small children.
[Artwork description: A young girl is walking on a path in front of a garden. Her figure is in the center of the painting with her feet at the bottom edge and her head almost to the top. She is leaning slightly forward and walking toward the left side of the painting. Her body is in profile with the head turned toward the viewer. Her face is round and doll-like with round blue eyes, a dot for the nose, and a small pink line for the mouth. She has orange hair curving around the sides of her face and a curl in the middle of her forehead. Her dress is calf length and is decorated with dots of red and bright pink interspersed with thin dashed lines in pink and light green. The skirt flips up in the back to show movement. A triangle of white shows at the flip. She is wearing turquoise boots with one foot forward and one back. The path is gray and covers the width of the painting as far up as the top of her boots. Above this is a blooming garden that is represented by rows of dots and brush strokes painted in different colors. The pattern from bottom to top is: Turquoise brush strokes, white dots, light green brush strokes, pink dots. The pink layer is the widest and ends just below the top of the girl’s head. Above that is a turquoise layer made with thick brush strokes. At the very top there is a narrow layer of brown with yellow dots.]
Maternity with Cypress, from the journal Pan, 1897
Portland Art Museum, Museum Purchase: Portland Fine Print Fair Fund 2020.6.1
Many of Denis’s maternity scenes are set in domestic gardens. This lithograph strikes a melancholy chord, a mood that is enhanced by the cypress tree that rises to the right of his wife, Marthe, and the infant in her arms. Since antiquity, the cypress has symbolized mourning. This image may reference Denis’s own loss of his firstborn child, Jean-Paul, who died in infancy in 1895.
[Artwork description: A woman holding a baby is standing beside a cypress tree. The woman and baby fill the bottom left quarter of the piece. The woman is looking out and slightly down. She is wearing a black dress and is holding the baby on her right side. We cannot see that arm as the baby’s dress covers it. Her left hand is supporting the baby at hip level. The baby’s head is at the level of the woman’s chin. It is wearing a white bib and a long, white dress with large, speckled gray dots. Its white shoes show just below the dress and are at the level of the woman’s hip. Both the woman and child have neutral expressions that are lightly drawn. The baby is bald. The woman’s hair is shoulder length and pulled loosely back from her forehead. Her dress ends at thigh level at the bottom of the print. Behind her at hip level is a white strip. Behind this is a dark gray strip that goes up to about the level of her elbow. A large cylinder-shaped tree is on her left. It rises straight up from just behind her elbow to disappear at the top of the piece. Behind the tree and the woman’s head is a line of several houses that are white with gray roofs. They are simply drawn in block shapes. To the right of the tree is a white building that is larger than the others. The top third of the painting is a lighter gray. It begins just above the woman’s head and is interrupted only by the wide cylinder of the cedar tree. The colors are all subtle variations of gray, black and white.]
Moonrise at the Priory, 1894
Oil on canvas glued to cardboard
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Nancy F. and Joseph P. Keithley Collection Gift 2020.109
This winter scene depicts the enclosed backyard gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a medieval town northwest of Paris where Denis lived his entire life. A woman in black hangs sheets out to dry, so that—according to custom—they will be bleached by moonlight.
[Artwork description: A single figure is walking in a winter garden. The garden is bordered by a wall in the foreground and buildings in the background. A full yellow moon stands out against a blue green sky in the top right section of the painting. The moon is the brightest color in the painting. The colors are shades of brown and green with touches of yellow. The brushstrokes show and give texture to all parts of the painting. A wall stretches across the bottom third of the painting. It appears to be made of stone or brick, and it is painted with yellow green rectangles of different sizes that are outlined with pale yellow lines. The brush strokes make the wall appear rough to the touch. Tree trunks painted in shades of brown and green rise up in front of the wall on each side. Near the top of the wall, the trunks branch into many limbs that extend upward ending in a mass of textured paint that ends about two thirds of the way up the painting. The top of the tree on the left is painted with a dark rust color. The one on the right is dark green. Together they frame the garden. The garden is in the center of the painting. It is outlined by a light green wall on the left side, and it disappears outside the edge of the painting on the right. The left side and foreground of the garden is brown. A brown path runs down the center. Rectangles of shades of green form the rest of the garden. A small black figure is standing just inside the wall. There is no detail to the figure. It is just the outline of a person facing the garden with its back to us. It appears to be wearing a long dress and has both arms raised. Three thin, brown tree trunks rise up from the left rear corner of the garden and extend their branches to the top of the painting. Similar branches rise to the top of the painting on the right side. The moon appears between these branches. The top third of the painting includes four buildings and the sky with a bright full moon. The building to the left takes up almost the entire left third of the background and extends to the top of the painting. It is rectangular except for a triangular roof and a small, cathedral like window. The window is divided into six different sections and the sections are painted the same yellow as the moon. A smaller building sits in the center of the painting at the back edge of the garden. Two even smaller buildings sit one in front of the other on the right side and disappear at the painting’s edge. All the buildings are rectangular and painted in a light beige with touches of gray on the roof and windows. The right half of the background is dominated by the moon which is framed by tree branches in a blue green sky.]
The Garden in front of the Studio, 1901
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bequest of W. G. Russell Allen 60.118
A solitary figure reads in this secluded Parisian garden glimpsed from an upstairs window. The Nabis were drawn to intimate outdoor spaces more often than grand public gardens, which echoes their preference for private interiors.
[Artwork description: A soft focus overhead view of a woman on a gray patio, surrounded by green gardens. This print is dominated by soft greens and taupes. The woman is on the left one third side of the lithograph, and feels very small in the space of the entire print. She is seated on a chair, has brown hair, white skin, a pink and white patterned dress and a green blanket across her lap. There is one chair on each side of her, one a simple wooden slat folding chair the other a small wood backed chair with a pale pink seat cushion and arms. In the top third of the print is a taupe colored building – the left half is made of taupe and brown brushstrokes and has a brown door. A metal gate is in front of the door and is slightly open. The right side of of the building is a wall of windows. There are 2 rows of 8 narrow panes of glass, the glass panes continue to make the roof as well. In front of the windows are pale green with pops of dark green shrubs with two small orange blossoms. In the right two thirds of the lower two thirds of the print is a greenspace. Down the center of the print is more shrubbery of light green and to the right of that a darker green patch with lighter green rings that go off the right side of the print. There is a wide white horizontal band cutting across the bottom of the print with more green bushes in the very foreground of the print.]