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Marthe and Maurice

When one is lucky enough to be invited to the granddaughter of Maurice Denis, one seizes it and marvel.

Having attended my last conference for the Société des Lettres et des Arts des Alpes Maritimes on the painters of the Riviera, Catherine de Gillès - born Denis, offered to show me some of the paintings she keeps, when she lend them for exhibitions in the most beautiful museums in the world.

Maurice Denis. Portrait de famille. 1902. Collection particulière
Maurice Denis. Portrait de famille. 1902. Collection particulière

In this painting, Maurice Denis' first wife, Marthe, born Meurier, poses with three of her daughters. From left to right, Bernadette, Anne-Marie, who would later become the wife of the painter and mosaicist Marcel Poncet, and Noëlle.

Anne-Marie and Marcel Poncet will have a son, the famous sculptor Antoine Poncet.

The painting with a triangle composition, combines portrait and still life. Catherine de Gillès still owns the cup and saucer that appear at the bottom of the canvas.

Catherine de Gillès. Sur le meuble, la tasse du tableau et sa soucoupe. © Fabrice Roy
Catherine de Gillès. Sur le meuble, la tasse du tableau et sa soucoupe. © Fabrice Roy

Maurice Denis often photographed Marthe with the children. Here, for example, on the beach of Pouldu, in the company of Bernadette and Anne-Marie, in 1906.

Maurice Denis. Bernadette, Marthe et Anne-Marie. 1906.Photo (C) Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Maurice Denis: Bernadette, Marthe et Anne-Marie. 1906.Photo (C) Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

We find Bernadette and Noëlle in the following canvas, painted at the priory, in Saint-Germain en Laye: the two cradles. The composition, facing the window framed by the two cradles, is atypical and audacious. Serene atmosphere, smooth tones, color contrast, work on the curtains. This small painting concentrates the elements of an original artistic approach contemporary with the adhesion of Maurice Denis to the "Black Band", alongside Lucien Simon or Edmond Aman-Jean.

Maurice Denis. Les deux berceaux. Vers 1899. Collection particulière.
Maurice Denis. Les deux berceaux. Vers 1899. Collection particulière.

The following painting represents Marthe in 1889, at the age of 18. Maurice Denis was 19 years old when he painted it, in duo, if one can say so, with the painter Philippe Parrot-Lecomte.

Maurice Denis et Philippe Parrot-Lecomte. La jeune femme à l'oiseau. 1889. Collection particulière.
Maurice Denis et Philippe Parrot-Lecomte. La jeune femme à l'oiseau. 1889. Collection particulière.

A duo of painters? And yes, as evidenced by the signatures on the edge of the painting...

Les signatures de Maurice Denis et de Philippe Parrot-Lecomte. © Fabrice Roy
Les signatures de Maurice Denis et de Philippe Parrot-Lecomte. © Fabrice Roy

Marthe Meurier and the children will be an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Maurice Denis. The latter paints his wife on the motif but also from the photos he takes himself. In the following painting, dated 1913, Marthe is in the Pyrenees where she went to take care of her fragile health. She died at age 47 in August 1919.

Maurice Denis. Marthe dans les Pyrénées. 1913. Collection particulière.
Maurice Denis. Marthe dans les Pyrénées. 1913. Collection particulière.

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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