Moscou (Couvent Novodievitchi, la tour rose) (Moscow, the Novodevichy Convent, the Pink Tower), 1909
The Russian school, long dominated by The Itinerants, opened up to Western art at the dawn of the twentieth century. Groups and reviews influenced by Symbolism came into being, including World of Art and The Blue Rose. In 1908, the review The Golden Fleece held its first salon in Moscow, featuring post-Impressionist paintings by Russian and French artists including representatives of the Nabi movement such as Maurice Denis, Félix Vallotton, Edouard Vuillard, and Paul Sérusier.
Maurice Denis exhibited in Russia on at least four occasions prior to the October Revolution. His works drew comments in avant-garde Russian reviews as early as 1899 and were acquired by private collectors including Mikhail and Ivan Morozov, Sergei Shchukin, and Sergey Scherbatoff. In 1909, Ivan Mozorov invited him to Moscow to paint the myth of Psyche in eleven panels (1908-1909) for his music room. Denis recorded the experience in his diary and Russia notebooks: it inspired landscape paintings including views of the Kremlin and, here, the Church of the Transfiguration at the Novodevichy convent.
The virtuoso work returns to the Nabi style, with swiftly sketched lines, simplified shapes, and a cheery choice of palette offering a striking contrast between the brightly coloured buildings and the white snow. Sleigh tracks run through the snow and a woman and Orthodox priest are walking away from the viewer. The date beneath the signature, 1908, refers to the Julian calendar: Maurice and Marthe Denis arrived in Russia on 24 December 1908, i.e. 6 January 1909 in the Gregorian calendar.
Catherine Lepdor and Isabelle Cahn (eds.), Maurice Denis. Amour, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Hazan, 2021: n. 82.
Anastasia Zelvenskaïa, ‘Maurice Denis et la Russie,’ in Jean-Claude Marcadé (ed.), Le dialogue des arts dans le symbolisme russe, Lausanne/Paris, L’Âge d’Homme, 2008: 50-67.
Jean-Paul Bouillon (ed.), Maurice Denis, exh. cat. Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, RMN, 2006: 260-274.