Oct. 30 Art Minute: Maurice Denis, “Le Voyage d’Urien (The Voyage of Urien)”

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Produced as a collaborative endeavor between artist Maurice Denis and writer André Gide, Le Voyage d’Urien (The Voyage of Urien) is regarded as a masterpiece of Art Nouveau design. Featuring 30 color lithographs and one wood engraving (the cover), it represents one of the first modern efforts to consider the harmonious relationship of illustrations to the overall design of a book. Gide’s narrative relates the spiritual odyssey of its hero Urien and his pilgrim companions, as they travel from the earthly realm of the senses to the more transcendent domain of the soul. Denis’s sensual, dream-like depictions with their fluid contours and rhythmic, expressive designs provide an emotional equivalent to the naïve simplicity of Gide’s writing style.

In the following decade both Denis and Gide would become strong advocates for classicism, as they understood French art as the natural heir to Greek and Roman antiquity. This work, with its allusions to classical myth and stylistic borrowings from pre-Renaissance Italian art, looks forward to the later significant role each artist played in the creation of early 20th-century French Neo-classicism.

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