#Language and Life

#Language and Life

The Nabis: 3 Peak

Posted: 26 Jun 2019 04:30 AM PDT

After the Nabis coalesced as a group in the early 1890s, they reached their peak in the middle of that decade, and exhibited together in June 1894 in Toulouse.

It had never occurred to me when looking at the works of the Nabis individually, but a striking feature when their paintings are pooled together as a group is how many of their figures are women, and how many of these ‘high Nabi’ paintings explore the theme of womanhood.

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Three Ages (Maternity) (1893), oil on canvas, 45 x 33.6 cm, Private collection. The Athenaeum.

Pierre Bonnard’s Three Ages (Maternity) (1893) is a thoroughly Nabi treatment of a classical theme, with a newborn infant sat on its mother’s knee, and grandmother behind. Bonnard’s decorative effect on the mother’s dress is applied flat, rather than being projected over her 3D form, giving the painting the look of collage.

Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867–1944), Meeting of Women (c 1893), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

Ker-Xavier Roussel’s Meeting of Women from about 1893 continues the theme of womanhood in Nabi style, and is decidedly autumnal.

Georges Lacombe (1868–1916), Chestnut Gatherers (1893-4), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

Georges Lacombe’s Chestnut Gatherers from 1893-94 combines the Nabi flattened decorative look with a rich red more typical of the early twentieth century. He and Paul Sérusier (see below) had a particular fascination for mysterious scenes in the woods of Brittany.

Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940), Public Gardens (1894), oil on canvas, 213 x 308 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1894, Édouard Vuillard painted one of the great Nabi masterpieces, one of many now at the Musée d’Orsay: his large triptych Public Gardens. Its Japoniste panels show daily life for the nannies, nurses and their children in fine weather in one of the larger public parks, probably in Paris.

Paul Sérusier (1864–1927), The Snake Eaters (1894), tempera on canvas, 127 x 161 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

Like Georges Lacombe, in 1894 Paul Sérusier was deep in the woods of Brittany, with his more puzzling Snake Eaters. It seems to show a cultic religious ceremony taking place among the ancient trees, but apparently refers to the writings of Gabriela Zapolska, a naturalist Polish author who lived in Paris from 1889, and may have moved in common artistic circles.

Georges Lacombe (1868–1916), The Ages of Life (c 1894), tempera on canvas, 151 x 240 cm, Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva, Switzerland. The Athenaeum.

Georges Lacombe’s The Ages of Life from about 1894 sets this classical theme in those same ancient and mystical woods.

In 1895, the Nabis exhibited together in the ‘first salon’ of the Maison de l’Art Nouveau, Siegfried Bing’s gallery on the Rue de Provence in Paris, which specialised in modern and Japoniste art and gave its name to the Art Nouveau movement. The dealer Ambroise Vollard commissioned Pierre Bonnard and other Nabis to make lithographs for albums.

Maurice Denis was more actively involved with religious works, and that year was commissioned to paint seven large paintings on the vision and comversion of Saint Hubert for the home of Baron Cochin in Paris. The Baron, who lived between 1851-1922, was a writer and Catholic right-wing politician, who also collected Impressionist paintings.

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), The Large Garden (1894-95), oil on canvas, 168 x 221 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The Athenaeum.

By 1894-95, Pierre Bonnard’s paintings were starting to diverge from his Nabi style. One of his few larger studio works from this period, The Large Garden has an independent look more typical of his later works. It shows the large grassy orchard garden of a house in the country, possibly in the Dauphiné. As well as three children and the mother/housekeeper, there is a rich collection of domestic creatures. The woman has gathered in and folded white sheets, which have been drying on the fence which crosses the canvas. The third child has been cropped as if at the edge of a photograph. This enhances the impression of her running briskly to the right.

Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940), Woman in a Striped Dress (1895), oil on canvas, 65.7 x 58.7 cm, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

In contrast, in 1895 Édouard Vuillard’s Woman in a Striped Dress remains more conformant with the flattened, decorated painting style.

Félix Vallotton (1865–1925), Street Scene in Paris (1895), gouache and oil on cardboard, 35.9 x 29.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike Pierre Bonnard, Félix Vallotton doesn’t appear to have painted many views of the city of Paris, but this Street Scene in Paris from 1895 is in Nabi style and shares much with Bonnard’s views of the Paris streets, even down to the errant dog in the middle of the road.

Paul Ranson (1861–1909), Four Women at a Fountain (1895), media not known, 134 x 225 cm, Musée départemental Maurice Denis “The Priory”, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. The Athenaeum.

Around 1895, Paul Ranson painted series showing groups of women in various circumstances, including Four Women at a Fountain, with its Nabi style.

The Nabis became involved with La Revue Blanche, an avant garde art magazine published by the Natanson brothers. Ker-Xavier Roussel married Édouard Vuillard’s sister Marie, and Roussel, Bonnard, Vuillard and Paul Sérusier together decorated the Théâtre de l’Œuvre in Paris.

Next, members of the group started to diverge and develop more individual styles.

PDF without Adobe 24: Accessibility with PDF/UA

Posted: 25 Jun 2019 11:30 PM PDT

You can criticise Apple for many things, but one of its saving graces has been its sustained championing of accessibility. This isn’t a particularly large or lucrative market, but a very important one: you may not have any accessibility needs today, but as you grow older you almost certainly will.

Efforts to incorporate features for accessible PDF documents started in earnest fifteen years ago, in PDF/UA, for Universal Accessibility, and are now embodied in ISO 14289, which lays down the variations and features required to make a PDF document fully accessible.

Key requirements for a document to comply with PDF/UA include:

  • text must be meaningfully tagged and flowed into a reading order,
  • meaningful (as opposed to decorative) graphics must have alternative text descriptions,
  • content which cannot be read as plain text, such as that dependent on JavaScript or colour, is prohibited,
  • fonts must be embedded, with text mapped to Unicode (a beneficial side-effect).

This article looks at how some popular Mac PDF apps already support the key accessibility feature of reading a non-compliant PDF document, and how you can prepare an existing PDF on a Mac to be compliant with PDF/UA. My example file is one of the PDF help files for one of my apps, created using Nisus Writer Pro, which generates clean and well-structured PDF, far better than many other page layout apps, for example.

All the apps that I tested (Preview, PDFPenPro 11, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Pro, and Podofyllin) supported some form of speaking a PDF document, except for PDF Expert, which surprisingly lacks this feature. However, implementation of this basic feature isn’t so even: in Preview, you have to select the text that you want read aloud, and Adobe Acrobat doesn’t put the menu command in the standard location, but in its View menu, where it has to be enabled before use, which seems odd.

The biggest problem with all the apps that can read PDFs is, inevitably, that they read the PDF in the order it is given on the page. My example has header and footer text, and some embedded navigation links, and those were read out as they were encountered. This is exactly what tags and flowing into reading order are intended to address.

Despite the ISO standard for PDF/UA being published almost exactly seven years ago, its support by much of the PDF industry including Adobe, and support from the US Access Board in federal policy on accessibility (‘Section 508’), very few products on any platform provide good support for making an existing document comply with the PDF/UA standard.

Even tagging and flowing text is a feature which seems to be confined to the likes of Adobe Acrobat Pro, and more specialist tools. Disappointingly, neither PDF Expert nor PDFPenPro 11 appear able to perform this fairly fundamental task. Adobe Acrobat Pro version 19 puts all these tools in its Accessibility toolkit. Unfortunately, they are so riddled with bugs as to be almost unusable, at least in the current macOS version.


I started by letting Acrobat autotag the document, to see what sense it made of this relatively clean and well-ordered PDF. That was a mistake because it failed to recognise the regular headers and footers, and merged other contents into single tag units. I therefore tried removing its tags from one page at a time and correcting the tagging and reading order by hand.


This proved even more disastrous, as the tagging controls had a mind of their own. When I tried to make the headers and footers into artifacts, for example, it decided that they would be body text instead. After an hour of frustrated attempts to mark the whole document up in a meaningful reading order, I abandoned the job as simply impossible given the current state of the tools.

Assigning alternate text to the three screenshots included in the help document was much easier using the Set Alternate Text tool, or so I thought. However, when I ran a full check on the document, it failed because those three figures apparently still lacked alternate text. Even that had failed to work properly.

After several hours trying to turn my simple eight-page PDF into a document which was compliant with PDF/UA, I also discovered that there is no way to save it as a PDF/UA document as such. So I just have it on trust that the modified file is compliant, if you overlook the tests which it should pass but still seems to fail.

The final twist in this is that PDF/UA compliance also has limited effect on the accessibility of the document: the only two apps which paid the slightest attention to all my work providing alternate text, and tagging and flowing text content, were Adobe Acrobat Reader and Pro. Preview, PDFPenPro 11, and my own Podofyllin are all blissfully unaware of PDF features to support accessibility because they aren’t built into PDFKit and the Quartz 2D PDF engine in macOS.

Now if only someone like Tim Cook and his accessibility evangelists at Apple got their teeth into this little pit of inaccessibility.