Ker-Xavier Roussel was born Lorry-les-Metz in 1867 as Francois Xavier Roussel. His father, was a famous physician with a great passion towards the arts. Because of this interest, Dr. Roussel allowed his son to study under the academic painter Maillard. This was where he met Édouard Vuillard. The two artists became great friends, Roussel ended up living with the Vuillard family after his parents' separation, and then Married Vuillard's sister Marie.
Roussel, Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Lacombe, Paul Ranson, and Feliz Valloton studied together at the Academie Julian. The group of artists were frustrated with the French School style teaching and left the Academie in 1890. The artists then formed the group known as the Nabis.
The Nabis art movement, or commonly referred to as the Symbolist art movement, or the Decadence movement, was inspired by Japanese prints, like the impressionists, however they were more interested in the almost complete flattening of the space, through large bright fields of color and patterns. The Nabis also took inspiration from every day life, like impressionists, and were fond of unique cropping, that made the painting seem more like a snapshot than a traditional portrait or scene. However it differs from impressionism and post impressionism in that it is bolder, and places more importance on color and pattern than light. Symbolists artists were interested in the subjectivity of art, meaning that they felt that art should be the subjectified, not objectified, and they embodied this through use of creating emotional responses to their paintings through the use of color and technique. Symbolist writers and artists paved the way for movements like the Dadaists and Surrealists, by introducing dream like scenes with focus on a more internal and emotional response from the artwork, than in other art movements, like the French School, who focused on staged like beauty that is reminiscent to modern day portraiture at a photography studio, with even diffused light, ambiguous locations and pleasant figures.
Roussel was very inspired by Japanese art, Virgil, and the contemporary poet Mallarme. (80). These influences led to his interest in creating pastoral and idyllic scenes of nymphs and fauns, however, Roussel obviously strove to create a modern version of the "Historical Landscape," not anaemic or sugary-sweet like the works of the Salon Maitres, but the vigorous and genuinely picturesque, (Kostenevich, 8). Because of this interest in the idyllic neo-baroque style Roussel's work very much embodied a big part of the Nabis. The Nabis or Symbolist artists had a very decadent aesthetic that valued, highly patterned, strong colors and broad planes of field.
Roussel made a trip to visit Cezanne in Aix along with Maurice Denis. They discussed the works of Poussin, who became a great influence for Roussel. Cezanne's influence can be seen in Roussel's works, in the warm color palette he uses, as well as the flattening of the space. Roussel works differ from other Symbolist artists, in that they aren't as highly patterned, and more focus is placed on the natural setting, than the subjects, or subjects fashion and outfits. His color lithographs show vivid almost neon color in a natural setting, where is oil paintings, tend to be muddy browns and greens, depicting idyllic mythological landscapes with figures.
The Abduction of the Daughters of Leucippus, one of his more famous paintings on display at the Musee dâ' Orsay, was commissioned for the Bernheim Family. This painting exemplifies his interest in mythological figures and idyllic settings. This painting is modeled off of Rubens painting in 1616. Roussel took more influence from other works of art, re-painting scenes in a style that he felt suited the idyllic feel of the stories.
Roussel was described by Stuart Preston as "The least known and least approachable painter of the Nabis," (395). He created many works, and many of his paintings were displayed on exhibitions, however he destroyed many of his art works for reasons unknown.
He painted a mural for the Palais des Nations at Geneva, in 1936. and a curtain for the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris in 1913. Like many of the other Symbolist artists, He also created works in stained glass, and colored lithographs.
In 1926 Roussel won the Carnegie Prize for art. What is left of his artworks are now housed in The Art Institute of Chicago, the Louvre, Musee Dâ' Orsay, MOMA and many other museums around the world.
Kostenevich, A. G. The Nabis. New York: Parkstone International, 2009. Print.
Preston, Stuart. "Roussel, the Bochs, Stael. Paris and Elsewhere." The Burlington Magazine. 136.1095 (June, 1994) : pag. 395. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr, 2013.
Schormans, Jean. "Lâ' Enlevement des filles de Leucipee." Musee Dâ' Orsay. Web. 14 Apr, 2013.
Thompson, Belinda. "Beyond the Easel. Chicago and New York." The Burlington Magazine. 143. 1180 (July, 2001) : pag. 456-458. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr, 2013.