Maurice Denis - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • 1890 was a watershed year for Maurice Denis. Aged just nineteen, the painter of La Vendange mystique, 1890, participated in the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français for the first time, and he published the manifesto of the Nabis, which he had developed with Paul Sérusier, in Art et Critique that summer.i He was also an attendee of the original weekly Nabis meetings at painter Paul Ranson’s studio in Paris, known as “the Temple” among the Nabis, where the artists met to work through their nascent painting philosophy.ii The present work was gifted by Denis to Ranson, with an inscription in Latin taken from the Canticle of Canticles; La Vendange mystique remained in Ranson’s possession until his death in 1909.iii


    The work is likely a companion to another work in the Triton Collection, Édouard Vuillard’s Le Cantique des cantiques, 1891, also from the collection of Ranson, and inspired by the same Biblical poem. However, where Vuillard’s painting leans into the sensual and natural imagery of the poem, Denis engages the work’s mystical and spiritual themes, filtered through his own Catholic faith.


    Maurice Denis, Hommage à Cézanne, 1900. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images

    One of the youngest and most precocious Nabis painters, Denis uniquely fused the radical Nabis painting philosophy with his devout Catholic faith. He was quick to grasp the Symbolist significance of color, as articulated in the work of Paul Gauguin, rather than representational reality, in his paintings. Denis takes the same approach to La Vendange mystique, with heightened hues of yellow, scarlet, indigo and emerald green emphasizing the emotional intensity of the divine scene. The colors give form to the ardent faith of the nuns, gathering grapes in a mythical vineyard.

    “A cluster of cypress my love is to me, in the vineyards of Engaddi.”
    —The Canticle of Canticles, I, 13, Douay-Rheims translation, 1899

    Paul Gauguin, The Yellow Christ, 1889. The Buffalo AKG Museum. Image: Buffalo AKG Art Museum / Art Resource, NY 

    In contrast to his traditional subject matter, Denis’ approach to painting is secular and avant-garde. As the title of the work indicates, the content of La Vendange mystique parallels his fellow Nabis’ secular scenes of harvest and natural splendor, including Sérusier’s La Cueillette des pommes, 1891, and Émile Bernard’s Paysage de Bretagne, 1892. As in his peers’ work, the subject matter of women working in a rural setting is the springboard for experimentation with color and form. Denis applies cloisonnist principles through his use of bold outline in analogous colors (red outlines on golden baskets; yellow outlines on green leaves, and so forth), and his stippled brushstroke belies a Post-Impressionist pointillist impulse. The yellow figure of Christ at upper left evokes Gauguin’s Symbolist masterpiece, The Yellow Christ, 1889, The Buffalo AKG Art Museum; however, Denis’ stippled brushstroke renders the holy figure with a glowing, serene tenderness.

    “A painting—before it is a battle horse, a nude woman, or anything else—is essentially a flat surface covered in colors, assembled in a certain order.”
    —Maurice Denis, 1890
    La Vendage mystique represents Denis at his most daring and significant, and speaks to the Nabis’ commitment to painterly experimentation. As Denis wrote in his Nabi manifesto of 1890, the subject matter of a painting can be incidental. What matters most is the innovative application of color.



    i Maurice Denis, exh. cat., Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1970, p. 91.

    ii Ibid.

    iii Anthony Maas, “Engaddi,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1909, online; “Canticle of Canticles (Song of Solomon),” Chapter 1, verse 13, The Douay-Rheims Bible, 1899, online.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      Paul Ranson, Paris (gifted by the artist in 1890)
      Paul Ranson Estate Sale, Drouot, Paris, June 7, 1909, lot 72
      Galerie Eugène Druet, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
      Marczell de Nemès, Paris
      Marczell de Nemès Collection, Drouot, Paris, November 21, 1918, lot 39
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Drouot, Paris, December 7, 1953, lot 43
      Galerie Saint-Honoré, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
      Drouot, Paris, December 10, 1987, lot 60
      Alain Lesieutre, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
      Private Collection, Paris
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris (acquired from the above in 1999)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999

    • Exhibited

      Budapest, Müvészház, Nemzetközi Impresszionista Kiállítás, 1910, no. 11, p. 51 (titled Allegoria)
      Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis (1888–1903), June 8–October 2, 1955, no. 103, p. 55 (titled C’est la fête du blé)
      Paris, Galerie Huguette Berès, Maurice Denis 1870-1943, 1992, no. 7, n.p. (illustrated)
      Japan, Gifu, The Museum of Fine Arts; Gunma, The Museum of Modern Art, Tournant de la peinture entre la seconde moitié des années 1880 et les années 1890. Théories artistique et peinture française, February 4–May 16, 1993, no. 126, pp. 83, 172 (illustrated, p. 83)
      Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Cologne, Wallraf- Richartz Museum; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Maurice Denis 1870-1943, September 29, 1994–September 17, 1995, no. 11, p. 130 (illustrated)
      Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin y los orígenes del simbolismo, September 28, 2004–January 9, 2005, no. 99, pp. 223, 320 (illustrated, p. 223)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Around Gauguin: Post-Impressionist works from the Triton Foundation, April 8–June 12, 2005
      Edinburgh, The National Galleries of Scotland, Gauguin’s Vision, July 6–October 2, 2005, pl. 103, pp. 84, 126 (illustrated, p. 84)
      Paris, Musée d’Orsay; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Maurice Denis: Earthly Paradise (1870-1943), October 31, 2006–September 23, 2007, no. 6, pp. 119-120 (illustrated, p. 119)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Klaroenstoot voor de moderne kunst: De Nabis in de collectie van de Triton Foundation, April 29–November 30, 2008, pp. 22-23 (illustrated, p. 23; titled Mysticism and occultism)
      Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Elsewhere: Gauguin, November 27, 2010–February 20, 2011, pp. 286-287, 361 (illustrated, pp. 287, 361)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant gardes: 1870 to the present, The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 158-159, 543 (illustrated, p. 159)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum (on long-term loan, November 2019–November 2022)

    • Literature

      Caroline Boyle-Turner, Les Nabis, Lausanne, 1993, pp. 20-21 (illustrated, p. 21)
      Édouard Vuillard, exh. cat., The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003, fig. 1, p. 115 (illustrated)
      Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Milan, 2003, vol.I, pp. 185-186 (illustrated, p. 185)



La Vendange mystique

signed "MAV DENIS" center right; inscribed "BOTRVS CYPRI DILECTVS MEUS MIHI IN VINEIS ENGADDI" upper right
oil on canvas mounted on board
29 1/8 x 19 7/8 in. (74 x 50.5 cm)
Executed in 1890.

This work will be included in the forthcoming Maurice Denis catalogue raisonné being prepared by Claire Denis and Fabienne Stahl.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $431,800

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023