Most characteristic painters in this movement are Sérusier, Maurice Denis, P. Bonnard and E. Vuillard.
"Nabi" is a hebrew word that means "prophet". Nabi group is a special one: they attended to their meetings dressed with similar clothing and elaborated a common rite. Sérusier was the only one in this group who kept in touch with Gauguin. He expressed his thoughts in his work The Talisman in wich he deals with abbreviation of form and bold color: he changed to other colors without a chromatic shade. This work became an important discovery to Sérusier's companions.
Nabis have to do with literary symbolism. They are opposed to positivism and naturalism, movements that finsihed with Impressionism. They got a view distant from nature. We can distinguish many groups with different tendencies: hermetic, buddhist, mistic... They were attracted by exotism and orientalism; then they turned their interests to orthodox christianism.
Nabis like symbol and allusions to everything beyond this world, but we cannot talk of a unified Nabi group. Nabis look like a group that fuses Gauguin's novelties with a more traditional and pure painting.
They cannot abolish academicism. From Gauguin they took the abbreviated representation and flat color. Shades by Nabis are more soundless than usual: they work with browns, beiges and blues. They also paint on cardboard with tempera. That is why his painting looks less brilliant.
Nabis was the most innovator sector in Paris until 1905, when Fauvism came to scene. Nabis' collective exhibitions made them a really important group.
Nabis' production is not big, unless Bonnard and Vuillard ones. Nabis are theorical artists rather than creators. In 1919 Maurice Denis' workshop of sacred art, marked a shift to spirituality with a new sense. In August 1890 he published in Paris -in Art and critics magazine- his famous definition for picture: "A picture, before showing a horse, a battle or a feminine portrait, is mainly a flat surface covered with colors in a specifical order". So he broke with the idea of painting as an exercise of mimesis. This theory prepares the way to Fauvism and, later, to Abstraction. Artists claim for a pure painting: its value consists of eliminating the anecdote. That is why their subject is more and more simple.
They come back to an authentic medieval religiousness without distortions. This change to spirituality implies a revaloration of Renaissance painting. Survival of spirits is close to Vanguardism. Nabis were very clever in arts of illustration. They collaborated in La Revue Blanche founded by Natanson. This magazine was edited from 1894 by Félix Feneon and became a first reference for art.
Nabis' works represent intimate and bourgeois environements. They often show inner scenes and psychological depths. Its most important achievement in plastic and pictorical fields is its treatment of picture's surfaces. They pay a special attention to decorative motifs: tapestry, wallpaper... Decoration is connected to Modern Art.
Results are syntheses: the novelties by Gauguin, the bases for Symbolism and the japanese background.