Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, Paris, 1889–1900

Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, Paris, 1889–1900
On view at the Cleveland Museum of Art July 1 to September 19, 2021
The Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall

Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, Paris, 1889–1900 explores the beautiful, enigmatic and paradoxical work of Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis and Félix Vallotton, four members of the Nabi Brotherhood. The Nabis were a group of young artists active in Paris who were inspired by Paul Gauguin and the growing current of Symbolism in literature and theater. They sought to create an art of suggestion and emotion. Private Lives examines their paintings, prints and drawings of home, family and children, or what Bonnard referred to as the small pleasures and “modest acts of life.” Throughout their formative years in the 1890s, these four artists were deeply entwined in each other’s lives; Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis shared a studio, and Swiss-born Vallotton became a close associate of all three and remained a lifelong confidant of Vuillard. Although their styles varied, each returned repeatedly to the motifs of home life, romantic love and family.

Yet the domestic world was not always what it seemed; suppressed secrets, hidden affairs and familial tension bubble beneath the surface, challenging the viewer to construct the unspoken narrative of these small but powerful images of interiors, gardens and the city of Paris.

Loans from the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Musée d’Orsay, as well as from many additional public and private collections, will feature in this exhibition, alongside the rich holdings of works by the Nabis in the collections of the CMA and the Portland Art Museum.

The exhibition is curated by Mary Weaver Chapin of the Portland Art Museum and Heather Lemonedes Brown of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Private Lives is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the Cleveland Museum of Art and Yale University Press. The catalogue features essays by the co-curators and vignettes by leading historians and art historians that offer insight into the private worlds of the Nabis: Francesca Berry of the University of Birmingham interrogates the Nabis and gender roles; Kathleen Kete of Trinity College, CT, reveals the importance of pets to private life in nineteenth-century France; Saskia Ooms of the Musée Montmartre describes the role of the camera in the personal world of these artists; and Francesca Brittan of Case Western Reserve University illuminates the centrality of music in constructing the bourgeois family home.

The exhibition is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Portland Art Museum.

Major support is provided by Gertrude Kalnow Chisholm and Homer D. W. Chisholm and the Florence Gould Foundation. Additional support is provided by Anne H. Weil. Generous support is provided by an anonymous supporter and by Sandra and Richey Smith.

The exhibition catalogue for Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, Paris, 1889–1900 was produced with the support of the FRench American Museum Exchange (FRAME).

All exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art are underwritten by the CMA Fund for Exhibitions. Major annual support is provided by the Estate of Dolores B. Comey and Bill and Joyce Litzler, with generous annual funding from Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Chapman Jr., the Jeffery Wallace Ellis Trust in memory of Lloyd H. Ellis Jr., Ms. Arlene Monroe Holden, Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, William S. and Margaret F. Lipscomb, Tim O’Brien and Breck Platner, the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Claudia Woods and David Osage.

Women with a Dog, 1891. Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867–1947). Oil and ink on canvas; 41 x 32.5 cm. The Clark Art Institute, Acquired by the Clark, 1979, 1979.23. Image courtesy of the Clark Art Institute. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris