According to the Nabis and other ‘Intimistes’, the task of the modern artist (and printmaker) was to express large truths through small subjects.
They shared with the poets, philosophers and dramatists of their time a fascination for capturing intimate moments from everyday life.
The Heroism of Modern Life
The Nabis often chose unspectacular scenes from their direct surroundings for their prints, such as family life, the view from their studio, or a day out with friends in the summertime.
By internalising and abstracting these personal experiences, they touched on universal human existence.
The art historian Gustave Coquiot, for instance, described Pierre Bonnard’s interiors as ritual performances: ‘It is as if dinner to him is one of life’s most serious matters, and therefore deserving of his utmost attention and dedication.’
Many fin-de-siècle prints are simply titled Intimacy. They are small, atmospheric images with figures that merge into the darkness of impenetrable rooms.
Printmaking lent itself perfectly to small subjects from the private sphere, as the works were intended to be examined closely by private collectors in the seclusion of their study.
Ursula Perucchi-Petri, Intime Welten: Das Interieur bei den Nabis. Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton, Bern, 1999.
Michelle Perrot, Histoire de la vie privée: De la Révolution à la Grande Guerre, Paris, 1987.
Katherine M. Kuenzli, The Nabis and Intimate Modernism: Painting and the Decorative at the Fin-de-Siècle, Surrey, 2010.