Friday, December 14, 2012

Arty Farty Friday ~ Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes - I was unfamiliar with this French artist's work. He was born on this day, 14 December, in 1824, a noted painter during the second half of the 19th century, famous throughout Europe and in the USA for his murals. These are recognisable by their subdued color and allegorical figures set in classical landscapes. They can be found in public and religious institutions from the Panthéon in Paris, to the Hôtel de Ville, the Sorbonne, and in the Boston Public Library. Examples of his other paintings can be found in many American and European galleries.

From a description of his biography by Aimee Brown Price.......
"..... his work is crucial to reading the history of art of the late nineteenth century and the development of modernism. Internationally heralded yet sometimes scorned, much exhibited, respected and emulated, an artist's artist of pivotal importance to the generation of post-Impressionists from Seurat and Gauguin to Matisse and Picasso, Puvis' work is not readily categorized. Often associated with classicizing imagery, he was an artist of great range, originality and radically idiosyncratic invention." (My highlighting)

His paintings range from huge murals to sensitive portraiture, fantasies based on myth and legend, allegories, religious figures, caricatures, nudes, sketches. He favoured pale tones and a rather curious flatness. My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that he was influenced by the British Pre-Raphaelites, whose style is more to my own taste. (See post HERE) However, art critics state that Puvis's art also offered techniques that the next generation of artists adopted, such as dramatic simplification of form and color and an avoidance of narrative, emulated by artists who followed him.

His natal chart from data at Astrotheme: born 14 December 1824 at 10:00 AM in Lyon, France.

If his birth data is accurate, he had no planet in a Water sign - that's unusual for an artist. There's heavy emphasis, including Venus, planet of the arts, on Earthy Capricorn. The sign is ruled by Saturn and both sign and planet connect to tradition, all that's considered "classic", so no surprise there, except that though Venus sits in late Capricorn it does conjoin Mars in early Aquarius and links from thence into an Airy trine with Moon in Libra and Saturn (Capricorn's ruler, remember) in Gemini. So, although his art was basically classical, his style was something of a progression to a rather newer and different (very Aquarius) variation; the ideas his paintings presented were in many cases quite deep - cerebral- reflecting his chart's harmonious trine in mentally-oriented Air signs.

I haven't mentioned his Sagittarius Sun yet.....that would have translated, in connection with his artistic talent, as showing through his paintings a philosophical turn of mind, respectful of religion. Other than that, personality-wise, I'd guess he was a fairly optimistic and positive fellow, in spite of the times in which he lived. His works on Peace and Hope and the two allegorical paintings The Balloon and The Pigeon (see all below) point in that direction, I think.

Some of his paintings:

In the Museum of Amiens the artist's early work: two paintings War and Peace are exhibited. (The following quote is from an interesting 1911 piece at "Old and Sold" SEE HERE - it explains, in depth, this artist's style)
In these (War and Peace) already, Puvis reveals himself an artist of ideas, of imagination, not building up a composition which is empty of meaning or one which relies for its interests upon incident. It is the soul of War and Peace that he interprets: the horror of the one in its brutalizing of the conqueror and its wreaking of misery on the innocent and helpless ; the blessedness of the other in promoting the possibility of fullest harmony between humanity and nature. Each canvas presents incidents, but they are dominated by the embracing idea. It is the idea that, as far as the subject is concerned, absorbs one's imagination.

The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and Muses
Commissioned by his native city of Lyons to paint a suite of murals for its Musée des beaux-arts he created The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and Muses. We see a gathering of the muses in a tranquil setting, a reminder that the term museum has its origin in the Greek word mouseion: home of the muses. The nine patron goddesses of the arts are portrayed.


After the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the artist painted this picture of a young woman seated in a devastated landscape holding an oak twig as a symbol of hope for the nation's recovery from war and deprivation. A smaller variant, with the subject nude, is at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


In 1884 the artist was asked to paint a decorative cycle of two friezes representing Summer and Winter for the new Hôtel de Ville of Paris, re-built to replace the building burnt down by Paris communards in 1871. Twelve years later de Chavannes painted the smaller versions for private collections.

The Balloon

The Pigeon
Le Ballon & Le Pigeon by Puvis de Chavannes[1870 and 1871]
It was while he was on the ramparts of Paris, when the town was besieged by Prussian troops in 1870, that Puvis had the idea for The Balloon. It was completed by the end of November, and immediately distributed through a lithograph by Emile Vernier, reviewed in the press and admired by the intellectual and artistic elite. They encouraged the artist to produce another to match it. The Pigeon was painted at the beginning of 1871, and again distributed through a lithograph by Vernier.

There are several preparatory drawings and painted sketches (Paris, Musée Carnavalet). But the large paintings are in tones of brown, a fitting colour for the sombre events from which the iconography was drawn. Puvis knew how to avoid the picturesque and dramatic anecdote, so common at the time, and achieve a moving symbol. The paintings echo each other point by point. In The Balloon, a woman with a musket, dressed simply in a severe black dress, turns towards Mount Valérien and waves towards the balloon bearing the news. In The Pigeon, the same figure in mourning, this time portrayed frontally, collects the carrier pigeon which has escaped the talons of the hawks sent by the enemy. In the distance, the Île de la Cité is buried under the heavy snowfalls of that hard winter.

The Forgers (must have been a sketch made in preparation for the following painting)

Le Travail (Work)

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mike said...

Interesting commentary...thanks. I can appreciate his work, but I don't prefer his style of painting...a little too flat, dull, and morose for my taste. As you stated, he painted murals, and his work has the mural 2-diminsional effect.

I saw the photograph at the beginning of your post and instantly thought he looked like a Gemini, then saw his chart below. He has Sun-Jupiter and Mercury-Saturn in mutual reception. Mercury-Saturn are his final dispositors for most of his planets, which would flavor the air trine you point out, plus bringing the Mercurial Gemini effect to all planets except Sun and Jupiter.

I just did a quick search on him and his work was at first unjustly criticized as simplistic and yet ingenious...he redefined art at that time...Gemini traits. Heavily influenced by the old school theological painters, but translated the old to a new style...great moral dignity and character...was elected to presidency of the National Society of French Artists...Saturn traits.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I prefer his sketches, the few available online, to his paintings.

Good points about his strong Gemini flavour. A slight amendment to the time of birth Astrotheme has for him (which looks rounded up/down - approximate) would give him Aquarius rising - which I think could well be likely, given his urge to be part of the avant garde of his era, in painting style.