Ker-Xavier Roussel met Édouard Vuillard at the Lycée Condorcet, which they both attended. Together they visited Eugène Ulysse Napoléon Maillard's studio, where Roussel became acquainted with Charles Cottet, going on to study at the Académie Julian under Bouguereau and Jules Lefebvre. There, he became interested in the Synthetism promoted by Sérusier, following Sérusier's heeding of the line Gauguin had adopted in Pont-Aven. He joined the Nabis group. He and his friends form a link between the Impressionists - he knew Cézanne, Degas, Renoir and Monet - and the Fauves and Cubists.
In his earliest paintings, Roussel adopted a dark palette for Realist still-lifes. Later, his work bore the influence of Gauguin, Sérusier, the Nabis and Cézanne, in Intimist scenes painted in flat tints not yet clearly delineated. Their dull, saturated tones are reminiscent of Cézanne. In about 1900 he started painting mythological scenes full of nymphs and fauns and set in his home region of Île-de-France. After a bicycle trip in Provence with Maurice Denis, during which he met Cézanne, he lightened his palette, much taken by the cloudless skies below which he would now set the mythological and idyllic compositions which link him to Poussin and Corot. This wondrous, unreal world found its way into large-scale works, including the stage curtain of the Champs-Élysées theatre in 1913, a large Pax Nutrix for the Palais des Nations in Geneva and Dance for the Palais de Chaillot in 1937. He is best remembered for: Silenius' Triumph, Polyphemus, Diana, The Abduction of the Daughters of Leucippus. The nymphs and fauns of a mythology quite his own appear in clearings and woods from the outskirts of Paris, but the sun they rejoice in is Mediterranean. To capture the vibration of bright colours under a permanent sun, he later turned to pastels. He was more a Symbolist than a Nabi and signed himself K.-X. Roussel. He also produced lithographs.
He took part in exhibitions from 1891 with the Groupe des Vingt at le Barc de Bouteville's gallery in Brussels. Then he exhibited in Revue Blanche Painters ( Les Peintres de la revue blanche) in Paris; with the Nabis at Café Volponi in Paris; before World War I with Free Aesthetics in Brussels; from 1901 at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne; in the 1930s in Revue Blanche Painters ( Les Peintres de la Revue blanche) hosted in Paris by designer Bolette Natanson, the daughter of the Revue Blanche's owner. He took part in The Masters of Contemporary Art ( Les Maîtres de l'art contemporain) at the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris, and at the 1938 Venice Biennale and 1939 New York World Fair. He featured posthumously in Toulouse-Lautrec and the Nabis ( Toulouse-Lautrec et les Nabis) at Bern Kunsthalle; From the Revue Blanche ( Autour de la revue blanche) in the Galerie Maeght, Paris, and in Tokyo and Brussels. He had one-man shows in Paris before his death in 1944. Retrospectives were mounted in the 1960s in London and Bremen.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Geneva (Petit Palais): Haystacks on the Seaside
Paris (BNF): Training the Dog; Landscapes (engraving); Nymph and Faun (c. 1895, etching)
Paris (Louvre): Poject for a Screen (drawing)
Paris (MNAM-CCI): The Road (c. 1905); The Cyclops (1908); Venus and Cupid on the Seafront (1908); The Abduction of Leucippus' Daughters (1911); Pastorale (1920); Diana at Rest (1923); Portrait of Vuillard (1934)
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): The Gate (pastel); Woman in Profile with Green Hat; In Bed; Félix Valloton; Roussel Reading; The Seasons of Life
St-Germain-en-Laye (Mus. du Prieuré-Maurice-Denis): Composition in a Forest (c.1890-1892)
Toulouse (MBA, Mus. des Augustins): Our Lady of the Path
Winterthur: Autumn (1916)