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None of this seemed to have made any impact on Denis' Atelier. The distance he had travelled since his association with Sérusier and sympathy for Beuron may perhaps be shown by his association with the painter Georges Desvallières. The idea for the Atelier had in fact been proposed initially by Desvallières prior to the war. Desvallières was a successful painter, Vice President of the Salon d'Automne, successor to Georges Rouault as curator of the Gustav Moreau museum, but his style was radically different from Denis's, often violent and melodramatic.

Georges Desvallières: Archers, 1895

In 1905 he converted to Christianity but didn't renounce violence and melodrama:


He fought with distinction in the war, resolving that if he survived he would devote the rest of his life to Christian art. One of his first commissions was the decoration of a private chapel which he turned into a meditation on the war (1922, Saint-Privat):

a considerably more interesting meditation than this by Denis:

Maurice Denis: Love, Faith, Hope, 1915

The contrast with Desvallières shows up one of the salient characteristics of Denis' work. There seems to have been no dark side to him, no consciousness of sin.

Maurice Denis: Polyphemus, 1907

Maurice Denis: Mural painting for the church at Vésinet, 1899

Which is particularly strange when we remember that he was a product of late nineteenth French Catholicism, an admirer of Verlaine, of Odilon Redon, J.K.Huysmans, Léon Bloy. In an earlier quotation I had him distinguishing between a 'feminine' art of tender feeling and a 'masculine' art of dogmatic rigour. His own sympathies were certainly with the feminine art of feeling. His great lifelong affection was for Fra Angelico. In a talk given in 1919 New Directions in Christian Art, (25) he comes close to endorsing the naïve approach to nature that he condemned in Neo-Traditionalism:

'I am of the opinion that ... the modern artist, if he wishes to exteriorise the mysteries of his interior life, will of necessity adopt the naive, virginal, humble attitude before nature that we associate with the medieval artist, an unfeigned naivety ... the naivety of the Primitives, of Giotto, of Fra Angelico, of the statuary of our cathedrals ... For him [the mediaeval artist], nature is Creation, and the creatures are witnesses and signs of the All-Powerful and the All-Bountiful. He is the child of the Heavenly Father, and it is in that dependency, in that childlike attitude that he finds contentment. Like St. Francis, he is brother to all the humble things which sing the glory of God, and those humble things have been rendered dearer to him by the Gospel which has associated them with divine instruction: harvests, planting, the little birds and the lilies of the field.'

(25) 'Les Nouvelles directions de l'art chrétien' in Nouvelles Théories, p.194.