Friday, November 5, 2010

Part III: Tour of the Boston Public Library

Puvis de Chavannes (1824-98) was a French painter and the president and co-founder of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He was born Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes in Lyon, Rhone, France, the son of a mining engineer, descendant of an old noble family of Burgundy. Pierre Puvis was educated at the Lyons College and at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris. A journey to Italy inspired him, and on his return to Paris in 1844, he began his study as a painter under Eugène Delacroix, Henri Scheffer, and later under Thomas Couture. It was not until a number of years later, when the government of France acquired one of his works, that he gained wide recognition. In Montmartre, he had an affair with one of his models, Suzanne Valadon, who would become one of the leading artists of the day as well as the mother, teacher, and mentor of Maurice Utrillo.

His work is seen as symbolist in nature, even though he studied with some of the romanticists, and he is credited with influencing an entire generation of painters and sculptors. One of his protégés was Georges de Feure.

Puvis de Chavannes is noted for painting murals, several of which may be seen at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris, the Sorbonne, and the Paris Panthéon, and at Poitiers, as well as at the Boston Public Library in the United States.

His paintings were done on canvas and then affixed to the walls (marouflage), but their pale colors imitated the effect of fresco. He had only modest success early in his career but he went on to achieve an enormous reputation, and he was universally respected even by artists of very different aims and outlook from his own. Gauguin, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec were among his professed admirers.

At the Boston Public Library, his mural designs were influenced by four academic categories:  Poetry, Philosophy, History, and Science. His murals decorate the marble staircase leading to the second floor.

On the right-hand wall of the staircase as you enter appear in three panels Pastoral Poetry. Virgil, Dramatic Poetry. Æschylus and the Oceanides, and Epic Poetry. Homer crowned by the Iliad and Odyssey.

On the left-hand wall, three panels display more academics: History-attended by a Spirit bearing a torch calls up the Past, Astronomy-The Chaldean Shepherds observe the stars and discover the law of numbers, and Philosophy-Plato sums up in an immortal phrase the eternal conflict between Spirit and Matter. "Man is a plant of heavenly not of earthly growth."

 On the end wall to the right and left of the windows there are two murals.

To the left is Chemistry (mineral, organic, vegetable): A process of mysterious change evolves itself under the magic wand of a fairy surrounded by watching spirits. To the right is Physics: By the wondrous agency of Electricity, Speech flashes through Space and swift as lightning bears tidings of good and evil.

In my next installment of this series, I will describe the Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail.


Herb St. Jean said...

This a wonderful presentation Patty.

I'll be sure to return.


Patty Meglio said...

thanks, Herb! Hope that you are doing well. Have a great holiday!