The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 1824-1898

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1824.12.14
Place of Birth: Lyon
Date of Death: 1898.10.24
Place of Death: Paris


Pierre Puvis de Chavannes was a painter, the son of a wealthy bourgeois family. His father was the Chief Engineer of the Mines. He had a brother, Edouard Puvis de Chavannes. In 1897 he married Princess Marie Cantacuzène. She died in August 1898, and Puvis soon afterwards.


Puvis studied under Henri Scheffer, Eugène Delacroix and Thomas Couture, and later with Alexandre Bida, Gustave Ricard and the engraver Victor Pollet. He made his début at the Salon in 1850, with Dead Christ (Gazíra Museum, Cairo).

In the late 1850s he largely turned to decorative paintings. These tended to be painted canvases stuck on walls rather than frescoes. In 1861 his two large murals Peace and War were awarded a second-class medal. Their companions Work and Repose were exhibited at the Salon of 1863. His works were criticised by Jules-Antoine Castagnary and Charles Blanc but praised by Théophile Gautier for their lack of Realism and subject matter, and for their strong decorative qualitities. Like JW, he thought of his works as flat decorative surfaces. He was influenced by classical art and by Renaissance frescoes, particularly those of Piero della Francesca. He was closely associated with the Symbolist movement in France.

Puvis acted frequently as a member of the Salon jury, but resigned in 1872 and again in 1881 because of its conservative and strict regime. However, he appears to have been on the Salon jury in 1889 when JW was awarded a first class medal for painting in the English section (#03786). In 1890 Puvis founded the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, along with Ernest Meissonier and Auguste Rodin. He was elected its Vice-President, becoming President in 1896. JW exhibited at the group's second exhibition in 1892 (#08200). In 1893 and 1895 both JW and Puvis donated works to André E. Marty and Roger Marx's L'Estampe originale (#03347) and a sale on behalf of 'a talented and ailing artist', Lauzé (#03957).

Puvis was among those who exhibited at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, a society which formed in 1898 with JW as its President.


Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Monneret, Sophie, L'Impressionisme et son époque, Paris, 1978-79; Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1994; Boucher, Marie-Christine, 'Pierre Puvis de Chavannes', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 4 November 2003).