Maurice Denis
Baigneuses (Bathers) or Plage au petit temple (Petit Temple Beach), 1906

  • Maurice Denis (Granville, 1870 - Paris, 1943)
  • Baigneuses (Bathers) or Plage au petit temple (Petit Temple Beach), 1906
  • Oil on canvas, 114 x 196 cm
  • Acquired with the support of the Association des Amis du Musée, 1996
  • Inv. 1996-051
  • © Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne

Displayed at the 1906 Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts and acquired in 1907 by the Belgian patron and painter Anna Boch, this large-format canvas is one of the most complex works in the series of beach paintings that Maurice Denis inaugurated in 1898 with Baigneuse Perros (On the Beach of Trestrignel, New York, The Museum of Modern Art). It belongs to the artist’s ‘classical moment’, the period that followed his discovery of the works of Raphael in Rome. This saw his colours become more luminous, acid and electric, his compositions more strict. A dazzling sun sears his views of Brittany, his chosen territory from his Nabi years onwards.

Baigneuses represents the Grands Sables site at Le Pouldu in the Finistère. Among Denis’s paintings of beaches, this one depicts the ocean less as a maternal place that gave birth to civilisation than as the theatre of a spiritual union with nature, ritualised by the act of diving into the waves. Everything here is turned towards the ocean: the coast, wide open and ending with a Greek temple; the cohort of naked women and children contemplating, organised in triads; the boat launching out onto the waves.

The work is syncretic in its mixture of antique but also modern elements, including the presence of Marthe, the painter’s wife, who modelled for the nude on the far left. On either side of the two figures placed along the median axis – heightened by the red of a dress and a bonnet – there is an alternation of naked and draped nudes, their plasticity close to that of Aristide Maillol’s sculptures. Decorative in its rhythm and in the arabesques of the foam, using an almost pointillist touch, Baigneuses has the vivacity of Henri Matisse’s fauve palette but with a calming effect. Its composition digests the tempered art of Paul Cézanne’s Grandes Baigneuses (The Bathers, 1894–1905, Philadelphia, Museum of Art).

Bibliography

Jean-Paul Bouillon (ed.), Maurice Denis, exh. cat. Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, RMN, 2006: n. 78.

Gloria Groom, Beyond the Easel: Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, and Roussel, 1890-1930, exh. cat. Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 2001: 204-207, n. 60.

Jean-Paul Bouillon, ‘Du jardin à la plage: deux peintures nouvelles de Maurice Denis au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne,’ in De Vallotton à Dubuffet: une collection en mouvement, acquisitions, dons, prêts, Les Cahiers du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne n. 5, 1996: 21-28.