Maurice Denis was educated at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, where he coincided with Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel. Around 1885 he studied drawing in Paris, in the Balla workshop, and three years later, in 1888, he joined Lefebvre and Doucet's atelier (at the École des Beaux-Arts) and the Académie Julian. There, Denis met Pierre Bonnard, Henri-Gabriel Ibels, Paul Ranson and Paul Sérusier; the latter had painted The Talisman in Pont-Aven that summer, following the teachings of Gauguin. Together, they decided to found the Nabis group of artists, abandoning the naturalism of their teachers for a style capable of expressing contents in a more direct manner. By way of a manifesto, Denis published his renowned "Définition du néo-traditionnisme" in 1890 in the magazine Art et Critique. One year later he showed his works in the Salon des Indépendants and in a Nabi exhibition in Le Barc de Boutteville, in Paris. His lithographs for André Gide's symbolist story, Le Voyage d'Urien, date from 1892 and 1893. Among his first decorative commissions, one that stands out is The Legend of Saint Hubert, which he produced in 1897 for Baron Denys Cochin's Hotel in Paris.
In the following years Denis gradually moved away from the radicalism of his Nabi beginnings. In 1895, 1897, 1898 and 1904 he travelled to Italy. In 1906 he visited Cézanne, Cross, Signac, Valtat and Renoir in Provence. As time went by, his way of thinking became increasingly classicist, as can be seen in his influential book, Théories (1890-1910): Du symbolisme et de Gauguin vers un nouvel ordre classique, published in 1912. Between 1909 and 1919 Denis taught at the Académie Ranson, and in 1919, together with Georges-Olivier Desvallières, he founded the Ateliers d'Art Sacré, dedicated to the training of young artists in religious decoration. For many years, Denis continued exhibiting regularly at the Salon of the Société Nationale and at the Salon des Indépendants. He also completed many commissions of stained glass windows and decorations, of which his History of Music for the Théâtre des Champs Elysées (1912-1913) and his History of the French Arts for the dome of the Petit Palais (1924-1925) are the most outstanding.
Maurice Denis died in 1943, run over by a truck, during the German occupation of Paris.
Juan Á. López-Manzanares