Paul-Elie Ranson was born in the French city of Limoges in March 1864. He was one of the founders of Les Nabis, a somewhat mystical and modern art movement. Not only was Ranson a talented painter, but he also excelled in writing and decorative art, like creating tapestry design.
The artist began his academic journey at the École Nationale Supérieure d'art de Limoges. In 1886, Ranson moved to the mecca for artists, in Paris, and enrolled at the prestigious private art school for sculpture and painting, the Académie Julian. About two years later, he met Paul Sérusier, and the artists became quite close. In fact, they had a similar view on painting, mostly disagreeing with the Academic structures.
Ranson and Sérusier painted in a modern style. They worked during a transitional period of art movements, from Post-Impressionism to Symbolism and other groups that worked with abstraction. Together they formed a group called Les Nabis in 1888 and were greatly influenced by Paul Gauguin, who himself had transitioned from a Post-Impressionistic style to more symbolic representations.
Although they were a key element during this transitional period, artists of Les Nabis were, like the Post-Impressionists, mostly attracted to aesthetics of the Orient, especially Japanese art. Ranson painted Japanese Style Landscape as a reference to the bright and colorful woodcut print of Japan, an influence also seen in Apple Tree with Red Fruit. The most popular theme amongst the Nabis painters were representations of nude women in nature, like in Ranson's Three Bathers With Irises.
Les Nabis began pushing boundaries in what people understood about art movements and worked in multiple areas, especially decorative art, as an influence of the Art Nouveau. They branched out to other mediums in 1892, like costumes and set designs for theater. Ranson worked with tapestry and textile design. His playful work entitled The Ducks is a beautiful example.
Ranson's approach to decorative art was not an accident. Behind the Nabis' playfulness was a deeper side that rejected the growing materialism that came with the Modern Age. Like his fellow Nabis artists, he was inspired by theater, music, and poetry, like the work of Edgar Allan Poe. His Symbolist influence went in the opposite direction than the work of influential Realists like Edouard Manet and Gustave Courbet.
Other students of Julian also joined Ranson's movement like Pierre Bonnard, Félix Vallotton, Edouard Vuillard, and Maurice Denis. The group mostly did not take itself too seriously, calling their studio a Temple, and Ranson's wife was often referred to as the "light of the Temple". Sérusier whimsically portrayed his friend in Portrait of Paul Ranson, a nod to the group's humorous approach to art and life.
In 1908, Paul-Elie and his wife Marie-France founded an art school called Académie Ranson to teach within the Nabis perceptions. Unfortunately, Ranson passed away only a year later on February 20th, leaving his wife in charge of the newly opened Academy.