The Two Sisters, 1891

Maurice Denis (1870-1943)

  • Oil on Canvas, 40.5 x 32.5 cm
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
    (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)

Like the other painters in the Nabis group Maurice Denis endeavoured in his work to express an état d’âme, a state of mind. The unearthly blue-green tints in the faces of the two sisters emphasise the fearful mood in this painting.
The canvas originally formed part of a larger picture, based on the play L’intruse (The intruder) by the Belgian playwright Maeterlinck. This larger work must have proved difficult to sell as Denis cut up the canvas himself. The painter apparently regarded this picture as the most successful fragment as he made a special frame for it which repeats the floral pattern in the background. Denis turned the majority of the other fragments into new pictures by painting on the reverse of the canvases.

More information about "The Two Sisters"


Denis was attracted toSymbolism, both in the theatre and in painting. The symbolist work is a system of agreed signs, a simplified representation of reality with the emphasis on decorative elements. The decorative aspect was particularly important to the painters of the Nabis group which Denis had helped to found. The simple forms in The two sisters, the flat areas of colour and floral frame are characteristics of the decorative effect which the Nabis painters sought to create.
The painting also clearly shows that Denis, like his colleagues, was inspired by Japanese prints. However, his personal style also displays an affinity with early Italian painting, many of whose figures and subjects have a religious overtone.

Drama production

The larger painting is known from the lithograph which Denis made for the production of L’intruse in the Théâtre d’Art in 1891. The play is about a family fearfully waiting for an unknown intruder – Death. The lithograph shows three sisters who are visiting their grandfather in the company of their father and uncle. All sense the imminent danger, the arrival of death. The painter has successfully managed to convey the menacing atmosphere.
Like his Nabis friends and painters such as Odilon Redon, Denis contributed to symbolist drama productions on more than one occasion.

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