The New International Encyclopædia/Puvis de Chavannes, Pierre
PUVIS DE CHAVANNES, pụ'vḗs' de shȧ'vȧn', Pierre (1824-98). The leading mural painter of France in the nineteenth century. He was the creator of modern mural painting, which he restored to its real function, that of decoration. Born at Lyons, December 14, 1824, the son of a distinguished engineer, he took the classical course in a lycée, and then studied in a technical school, preparatory to his father's profession. After deciding to become a painter he worked without profit under Henri Scheffer, Delacroix, and Couture, but studied to more effect the works of the early Florentines, especially those of Giotto in Italy, being, therefore, in the main self-taught. He first exhibited in the Salon of 1850, not 1859 as is commonly stated. His first decorative works, “War” and “Peace,” exhibited in 1861, were received with disfavor by most critics, but met the approval of the more thoughtful, like Théophile Gautier. They were acquired by the Government for the Museum of Amiens, in which his early decorations can best be studied, such as “Work and Rest” (1863); “Ave, Picardia Matrix” (1865); “Ludus Pro Patria” (1880); “Young Picard Exercising with the Lance” (1882). After the time of the Universal Exposition of 1867, when he received the cross of the Legion of Honor (officer 1887, commander 1889), his position was secure. He was constantly employed upon Salon juries and artistic commissions, and the greater part of his time was taken by great series of paintings for French public buildings. Among the principal of these are two fine representations of Marseilles in ancient and modern times for the museum there; two historic scenes for the Hôtel de Ville, Poitiers (1874-75); the “Infancy of Saint Geneviève” (1876-77), in the Pantheon at Paris — a beautiful idyllic scene; a series of splendid decorations for the museum of his native town, Lyons, among which are “Sacred Grove. Dear to the Arts and Muses” (1884), “An Antique Vision” and “Christian Inspiration” (1880). In 1889 he decorated the great hemicycle of the Sorbonne with an allegory of the noble purposes of its foundation, entitled “Alma Mater.”
Puvis de Chavannes was the moving spirit in the secession of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts from the Salon in 1890, and in the following year he succeeded Meissonier in the presidency, which he retained till his death. All his later works are remarkable for the tasteful use of modern costume in ideal representation. His decorations in the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, include “Hommage à Victor Hugo” (1894), in which the poet is represented as dedicating his lyre to the city, and two fine landscapes, “Summer” and “Winter.” In 1896 he completed his decorations of the Boston Public Library, “The Muses Saluting the Spirit of Enlightenment” and eight fine panels of the “Arts” and “Sciences.” His last monumental work was three other large paintings of the life of Saint Geneviève in the Pantheon. The last years of his life passed in quiet at Neuilly, but were saddened by the illness of his wife, the Princess Cantacuzene, and soon after her death the painter himself died, October 24, 1898. His large collection of admirable drawings and careful studies was left by his nephews to the Luxembourg Museum, the City of Paris, and the provincial museums possessing his works. Besides his monumental productions he painted a number of smaller works of which it is sufficient to mention “Girls on the Seashore” (1879); the “Poor Fisherman” (Luxembourg, 1881); “Le Doux Pays,” which received the medal of honor in 1882. Of his portraits the most interesting are those of himself at twenty-five and of his wife, exhibited in 1891.