Closely after the war, the Church had lost a lot of its influence, as a consequence of wide changes in the social structure of the country. Many men had died or were invalids (1.7 million military and civilian losses, 4.3 million wounded soldiers). Women occupied a new and unheard of status. The country was rebuilding. Through the “Studios of Sacred Art”, some artists were determined to give a new impetus to sacred art, to go along with the reconstruction of many church buildings destroyed during the conflict. A broad reflection on sacred art developed with catholic thinkers and artists, such as Charles-Marie-Georges HUYSMANS, Paul CLAUDEL and of course, Maurice DENIS, following a growing movement of ideas when the war started and brought to fruition after it ended.
Indeed, in the aftermath of World War One, in 1919, painters like Maurice DENIS (1870-1943) and Georges DESVALLIERES (1861-1950) laid the foundations of the “Studios of Sacred Art”. Sharing the same sacred symbols ethos, they ranked with Georges ROUAULT (1871-1958), painter and engraver, a pupil of Gustave MOREAU.
Rekindling the spirit of companionship, which, in the middle Ages, brought together artists and craftsmen on shared projects, the “Studios of Sacred Art” aimed to train creators into practicing Christian art.
The “Studios of Sacred Art” must also be seen as a strong response to the general poorness of artistic representations of the Sacred at the turn of the century. They would react to academic religious art, bland and out-dated manufactured products, called the art of Saint-Sulpice, as being worthless and lacking artistic creativity.
The “Studios of Sacred Art” linked their reflections to the Symbolist movement. Also, one cannot help drawing a parallel with the “Arts and Crafts” movement initiated by MORRIS and RUSKIN among others, in Britain.
The artists who joined the “Studios of Sacred Art” shared in substance the philosophical reflections developed by Jacques MARITAIN (1882-1973) who published Art and Scholasticism in 1920. In his own words, “It is by the way in which he transforms the universe passing into his mind, in order to make a form divined in things shine on a matter, that the artist imprints his mark on his work. For each work, he recomposes, such as into itself at last poetry changes it, a world more real than the real offered to the sense.” (The Frontiers of Poetry) This is, in a few lines, the appropriate summary of the work developed by the “Studios of Sacred Art”.
Cardinal VERDIER (1864-1940), Archbishop of Paris, supplied most of the workshops’ business. He became known as the hundred churches’ bishop for his many constructions.