Denis studied at the Académie Julian under Jules Lefebvre and at the École des Beaux-Arts. He was heavily influenced by the non-naturalistic work of Paul Gauguin, as were his friends and fellow students Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. This group joined in the Symbolist movement, and in 1890 formed a division known collectively as the Nabis. After visiting Italy his work showed the influence of his appreciation fourteenth and fifteenth century frescoes. Denis went on to create his own large decorative murals, such as the ceiling for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées of 1912. Denis’s work was a driving force in the resurgence of religion as a subject in French art.