The Nabis – The First Interior Designers.

May 25, 2019 | Art, France, Paris

I recently went to an exhibition at the Musée de Luxembourg, which is in the gardens of the same name. Over the years I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the Jardins de Luxembourg, first as a student when I was getting a postgrad qualification and many years later, as a teacher at a university nearby.

However, this is the first time that I’ve visited the museum. The Luxembourg Museum is located in the orangery of the Luxembourg Palace, in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. The running of the museum has been the responsibility of the French Senate, since 2000, which is housed in the rest of the palace. Its current vocation is to periodically present thematic and original exhibitions privileging three axes of programming, in connection with the history of the place:

the Renaissance in Europe,

Art and Power,

the Palace, the Garden and the Museum.

I went to see an exhibition about The Nabis, France’s first interior designers.

The artists Bonnard, Vuillard, Maurice Denis, Sérusier, Ranson and Vallotton were pioneers of modern décor, they defended an art relating directly to life. They created original works, intended to decorate contemporary interiors.

Here is the exhibition’s introductory video (in French only):

Who are the Nabis?

In the late 1880s, young artists fascinated by Gauguin’s painting came together to assert their opposition to Impressionism, which they considered too close to reality. They referred to themselves as “Nabis” – a word that means “prophets” in Hebrew and Arabic – because their ambition was to reveal a new art. The group, active between 1888 and 1900, initially consisting of painters such as Paul Sérusier, Paul Ranson, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis, was soon joined by other artists, including Ker-Xavier Roussel. Below, a commissioned orchard scene by Pierre Bonnard.

These very different personalities agreed to give painting an essentially decorative role with the idea of abolishing the boundary between fine and applied arts. Below, a decorative screen.

Fascinated by Japanese prints that they saw at an exhibition organised by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1890, the Nabis took inspiration from these flat and colourful images to create an original style. Their art fed on their observations of the contemporary world, but also on various philosophies, religions and doctrines such as esotericism. It was also inspired by literature, theatre and poetry.

Responding most often to commissions from friends and patrons close to the group, they took themes familiar to artists such as the association of women with nature, inwardness and spirituality. Driven by the desire to create an art accessible to all, the Nabis innovated in the designs of tapestry, wallpaper, stained glass and ceramics.

Their creations are part of the movement of decorative renewal defended and popularised in France by the art collector  Siegfried Bing.  In 1895, he opened his famous gallery, the Maison de l’Art Nouveau, which showed works of the artists, of what would become known as the Art Nouveau style. Unfortunately, the building was subsequently demolished.

All the photos for this article were taken with my phone and I played a bit with a (free) long exposure application, Slow Shutter.

After the exhibition, we had a light lunch at the museum’s Angelina Café. I had the Nabis dessert that has been created especially for the exhibit. It was deliscious and so pretty :).

Although, the Nabis movement only lasted 12 years, it was the precursor of the immensely popular Art Nouveau style. The Nabis were working at the same time as the better known Arts and Crafts artists in Great Britain. It is one of my favourite periods in modern art, both for the simple style and the philosophy of bringing affordable art into the home.

Had you heard of The Nabis before reading this?


I’m delighted to have been interviewed by Judy MacMahon for the My French Life website. If you’re curious to know more about how I came to live in France and about my creative path follow this link …. Henrie Richer Fine Art Photographer and Artist.

If you have friends who might be interested in my blog, don’t hesitate to share. I’d love to widen my circle of delight in simple pleasures :).

Thank you for visiting,

Henrie XO.


  1. June

    I enjoyed reading your article, very informative, reminded me of my art history days!! The screens are absolutely delightful, would like to have all of them.

  2. Alexa

    I really enjoyed this. I hadn’t heard of the Nabis, so I’ve learned a lot! You had me at Luxembourg Gardens – my parents took us to Paris when I was thirteen (no package holidays then, all arranged by writing letters to small hotels!), and I have magical memories of the Luxembourg Gardens and helping my younger brothers sail a boat in the pond :).

    • Henrie Richer

      Alexa, thank you so much for commenting. What a lovely memory to have of your family holiday. When you think that little boys have been sailing boats in the Luxembourg fountain for centuries, it’s amazing and a great tradition.


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