One group of artists in this period of materialism and secularisation chose to embrace their Catholic faith.
They openly expressed their Christianity in their paintings and prints with a view to creating a modern religious art.
Some of them represented scenes from the Bible, others sought God in the landscape.
What these religious artists had in common is that their prints sought not only to please the eye, but also to touch the viewer’s soul.
Their pursuit of mysticism and spirituality made them Symbolists.
Biblical scenes at home
The Nabi artist Maurice Denis considered it his personal mission to revive the pure spirituality of his predecessors of the late Middle Ages.
He did so by presenting biblical scenes in a flat style of decorative patterns and silhouettes.
He also connected the scenes to his own daily life. He placed Mary in his domestic interior and merged her features with those of Marthe, the mother of his children.
It enabled him to create intimate, devout scenes that were nevertheless modern.
Charles-Marie Dulac went even further in his devotion to Christ.
He joined the Franciscan Order and began to preach via his art. Printmaking lent itself to this perfectly, as the larger editions of his colour lithographs were able to reach more souls.
He expressed his mystical experience of the French landscape in his print series by means of colour, mood, twilight and reflection.
Dario Gamboni, “The Baptism of Modern Art”? Maurice Denis and Religious Art’, in Maurice Denis 1870-1943, Amsterdam/Gent, 1994.
Richard Thomson, ‘The Religious Debate: Representing Faith, Defining Modernity’, in The Troubled Republic: Visual Culture and Social Debate in France, 1889-1900, New Haven, 2004.
Fred Leeman, Landschappen van de ziel: Het symbolistisch landschap in Frankrijk 1880-1910, Harderwijk, 2010.