The Impressionist Trail at L’Etang-la-Ville
A village set among the royal towns of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Marly-le-Roi, on the edge of the Marly National Forest, L’Étang-la-Ville awaits you for a moment of culture and relaxation. Stroll through the cobbled streets of the town centre in search of Nabis reproductions at L’Étang-la-Ville. Immerse yourself in the world of yesteryear and be carried away by the bucolic landscapes.
We invite you to follow the trail to learn more about the works of the Impressionist movement, its forerunners and its successors. Take advantage of this walk to explore all the Impressionist paths across Saint Germain Boucles de Seine.
The Nabis Brotherhood
In autumn 1888, Paul Sérusier (1864–1927) brought back from Pont-Aven a small landscape painted under the guidance of Paul Gauguin, which was to become the talisman of a group of young painters formed at the Académie Julian in Paris: the Nabis, a name derived from Arabic and Hebrew meaning “prophets” or “inspired”.
These late 19th century artists are now internationally famous: Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Ranson (1861–1909) who gave his name to the Academy they founded together in 1908, Henri-Gabriel Ibels the “nabi journalist” and Auguste Cazalis.
Others soon joined them: Édouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Georges Lacombe (1868–1916), the “nabi sculptor”, and Aristide Maillol. Painters from other countries also took part, including Jan Verkade from the Netherlands, Mogens Ballin from Denmark, Félix Vallotton from Switzerland and Jozsef Rippl-Ronai from Hungary.
The Nabis offered their vision of the world through simple, uncluttered forms and solid colours, breaking with the codes of Impressionism. Their compositions often make reference to their respective appetites for esotericism and the occult sciences.
“Some advice: do not paint too much after nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it, and think more of the creation which will result than of nature.”
Letter from Paul Gauguin to Emile Schuffenecker, Quimperlé, 14 August 1888
The movement did not have a remarkable lifespan. After a few years, in 1900, the Nabis group disbanded with members going in different directions.
Orchards and remarkable views: a source of inspiration for the Nabis in L’Étang-la-Ville
The bucolic aspect of nature was essential to this artistic movement, as we can see in numerous works such as in Ker-Xavier Roussel’s work Les Marronniers (The Chestnut Trees).
The orchards that inspired the Nabis in L’Étang-la-Ville were also home to mythological scenes populated by nymphs and fauns, as Ker-Xavier Roussel illustrates in another of his paintings, Dans le Verger à L’Étang-la-Ville (In the Orchard in L’Étang-la-Ville). This happy world is detached from reality, animated by a mythology of fantasy.
Certain architectural elements relating to the town’s heritage sometimes blend into the bucolic landscapes. Ker-Xavier notably depicted the steeple of Sainte-Anne church in his Paysage avec l’église de L’Étang-la-Ville (Landscape with the L’Étang-la-Ville Church), painted around 1907.
The church, still visible today in the centre of the village, was built in the 12th century and is now a listed historic monument.
Among the historical and architectural heritage still present in L’Étang-la-Ville from the time of the Nabis, you can also discover:
- The Hôtel de Ville, formerly the Château of Chancellor Séguier, who was Minister of Justice under Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
- The Cross and the War Memorial near the church,
- The Saint-Pierre de Montaigu fountain opposite the Château, at the entrance of the Allée de la Niche,
- The wash-house in the former hamlet of La Montagne.
Ker-Xavier Roussel and Edouard Vuillard in L’Étang-la-Ville
Edouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel met long before the Nabis brotherhood was formed. In fact, they had become friends at school, while at Lycée Condorcet, where Maurice Denis was also a student.
Ker-Xavier Roussel was introduced to the world of art at a relatively young age. He tried his hand at a number of techniques, his work developing as he met new people. He joined the Nabis brotherhood around 1890.
At the same time, Vuillard was experimenting with caricature. He initially rejected the Nabis brotherhood, before joining his friend Roussel some time later.
However, the closeness between the two artists was not confined to the artistic sphere. Roussel married Vuillard’s sister Marie in 1893. They gave birth to two children: Jacques and Annette. In 1899, the Roussel family moved into a rented house in L’Étang-la-Ville called Les Charmettes. It is located in the centre of the hamlet of Montagne.
They then built a new house, with a large studio, which they named La Jacanette. This name is a contraction of the first names of their two children.
In 1940, at the age of 77, Edouard Vuillard died in his house in La Baule. Following this sad event, Roussel offered Vuillard’s works to the French state. Ker-Xavier Roussel died a few years later in his house at La Jacanette. He is buried in the old cemetery at L’Étang-la-Ville.
The legacy of the Nabis artists at the Musée Maurice Denis
Many works by these artists can be seen at the museum, the Musée Départemental Maurice Denis, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Opened in 1980 thanks to a major donation from the artist’s family, the Musée Départemental Maurice Denis was the first museum devoted to the Symbolists and Nabis, before the creation of the Musée d’Orsay in 1986. You can also view works there by other members of the Nabis brotherhood and the Pont-Aven school.
Your visit to L’Etang-la-Ville
The route following the reproductions of Impressionist works will take you on the paths between L’Etang-la-Ville and Mareil-Marly. You can extend your country walk with the 7-km Mareil-Marly trails. Beautiful landscapes and remarkable viewpoints will punctuate your walk.
To round off your excursion, head down to the historic centre for lunch or a snack at Le 25 restaurant or Le Mermoz brasserie. You can also stay a few days in one of Saint Germain Boucles de Seine’s cosy accommodation options.