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Ker Xavier Roussel
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Chêne, France
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
L’Étang-la-Ville, France
A painter and printmaker who created mythological scenes set in the landscapes of Île-de-France and Provence, Ker-Xavier Roussel was a member of the artistic avant-garde of France in the 1890s and continued his career until World War II. His family moved to Paris from near Metz, in Lorraine, around 1870. Roussel studied at the Lycée Condorcet from 1884, where he met Maurice Denis (1870-1943) and Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940). In 1886 Roussel and Vuillard studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) at the École des Beaux-Arts before moving to the Académie Julian in 1886. There they joined Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Denis, Henri Ibels (1867-1936), Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) and Paul Sérusier (1864-1927). Roussel joined the Nabis group (named after the Hebrew word for “prophet”) when it was formed in 1889, as did many of his friends, and participated in exhibitions with the Nabis beginning in 1891 at the Galerie Le Barc de Boutteville and continuing there and at the Galerie Durand-Ruel during the 1890s. 1893 was a busy year for Roussel. He exhibited in the Les Peintres de la revue blanche (Review Blanche Painters) with Bonnard, Denis and Vuillard at the journal’s offices. He married Vuillard’s sister, Marie. With his Nabi friends he created scenery for a production at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre. And finally, that year he contributed the lithograph Dans la niege (or L’Education du chien, In the Snow or Training the Dog, Salomon 10) to the series L’Estampe originale (The Original Print, 1893-1895), published by André Marty (1857-?). He created several series of lithographs during the 1890s, including Paysages (Landscapes, Salomon 14-25) a set of twelve color lithographs published by Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) and printed by the master lithographic printer Auguste Clot (1858–1936) in 1899 and 1900. In 1899 Roussel moved to the western Parisian suburb of L’Étang-la-Ville, where he would live for the rest of his life. He began exhibiting at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery, continuing until 1914. Around 1900 Roussel abandoned Realist still-life paintings to concentrate on mythological scenes with nude figures in landscape settings, and his palate brightened after a trip to Provence with Denis. He created etchings as well as lithographs, along with pastels and oil paintings. His work showed the influence of Paul Gaugin (1848-1903), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Sérusier. He began to create large decorative works on commission for stately homes and public buildings, using the same mythological themes. In 1912 Roussel, Denis and Vuillard received commissions to decorate portions of the new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées; Roussel created a large, painted curtain for the Théâtre de Comédie, the smaller of the two theaters in the building. Perhaps reflecting their celebrity status, when offered membership in the Legion of Honor in 1912 Roussel (as well as Bonnard and Vuillard) declined membership. After contemplating enlistment at the outbreak of World War I, Roussel suffered a nervous breakdown in 1915 and spent much of the war in a Swiss psychiatric hospital. In 1915 he received a commission for two murals for the stairway in the new art museum in Winthur, Switzerland, a project he completed in 1918. He repainted the murals in 1926. Working with Vollard and Clot, he created several lithographs during the 1930s, including illustrations for Le Centaur et La Bacchante (The Centaur and the Bacchanalia) by Maurice de Guérin (1810-1839). Roussel continued to receive private and public commissions for large-scale works after the war, including large murals for the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in 1937 and the Palais des Nations in Geneva in 1938. He continued to exhibit frequently, both in group shows and solo exhibitions at various locations in Paris. In 1936 he participated in a reprise of the 1893 exhibition, Les Peintres de la revue blanche. His work appeared at the 1938 Venice Biennale and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. At the end of his life Roussel was working on lithographic illustrations for a translation of Virgil’s Eclogues. (TNB 7/2010) Selected bibliography: Groom, Gloria, et al. Beyond the Easel. Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Roussel. Exhibition catalog. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. Marlborough Fine Art Limited.. Roussel, Bonnard, Vuillard. Exhibition catalog. London: Marlborough Fine Art Limited, 1954.