Les Nabis originated as a rebellious group of young student artists who banded together at the Académie Julian . Paul Sérusier galvanized Les Nabis, and provided the name and disseminated the example of Paul Gauguin among them. Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis became the best known of the group; at the time, however, they were somewhat peripheral to the core group.
The term was coined by the poet Henri Cazalis who drew a parallel between the way these painters aimed to revitalize painting and the way the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel. Possibly the nickname arose because "most of them wore beards, some were Jews and all were desperately earnest".
Les Nabis regarded themselves as initiates, and used a private vocabulary. They called a studio ergasterium, and ended their letters with the initials E.T.P.M.V. et M.P., meaning "En ta paume, mon verbe et ma paume" ("In the palm of your hand, my word and my palm.")Orientalism refers to the Orient or East, in contrast to the Occident or West.
Meeting at Académie Julian, and then at the apartment of Paul Ranson, they preached that a work of art is the end product and the visual expression of an artist's synthesis of nature in personal aesthetic metaphors and symbols. They paved the way for the early 20th century development of abstract and non-representational art. The goal of integrating art and daily life, was a goal they had in common with most progressive artists of the time.
Les Nabis artists worked in a variety of media, using oils on both canvas and cardboard, distemper on canvas and wall decoration, and also produced posters, prints, book illustration, textiles and furniture. Considered to be on the cutting edge of modern art during their early period, their subject matter was representational (though often symbolist in inspiration), but was design oriented along the lines of the Japanese prints they so admired, and art nouveau. Unlike those types however, the artists of this circle were highly influenced by the paintings of the impressionists, and thus while sharing the flatness, page layout and negative space of art nouveau and other decorative modes, much of Nabis art has a painterly, non-realistic look, with color palettes often reminding one of Cézanne and Gauguin. Bonnard's posters and lithographs are more firmly in the art nouveau, or Toulouse-Lautrec manner.
After the turn of the century, as modern art moved towards abstraction, expressionism, cubism, etc, the Nabis were viewed as conservatives, and indeed were among the last group of artists to stick to the roots and artistic ambitions of the impressionists, pursuing these ends almost into the middle of the 20th century. In their later years, these painters also largely abandoned their earlier interests in decorative and applied arts.
Among the artists who considered themselves Nabis was Maurice Denis, whose journalism put the aims of the group in the eye of a progressive audience, and whose definition of painting - "a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order" - expressed the Nabis approach. His Theories (1920; 1922) summed up the Nabis' aims long after they had been superseded by the fauve painters and by cubism.
Other Nabis were Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Paul Ranson and Felix Vallotton. The sculptor Aristide Maillol was associated for a time with the group. The post-Impressionist styles they embraced skirted some aspects of contemporary art nouveau and Symbolism. The influence of the English Arts and Crafts Movement set them to work in media that involved crafts beyond painting: printmaking, book illustration and poster design, textiles and set design. (From Wikipedia)