Dream States: Puvis de Chavannes, Modernism and the Fantasy of France
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was a towering figure in late nineteenth-century France. The country's greatest public painter, he created murals that decorated museums in Amiens, Rouen, and Lyons as well as major buildings in Paris-most notably the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, and the city hall. Critics from the political right, left, and center, the avant-garde, the Academy, and the state all agreed on the importance of Puvis's murals. Avant-garde artists greatly admired and drew from his work. There was much controversy, however, over the meaning of these murals. This handsomely illustrated book is the first full-length examination of Puvis's murals and their critical reception during the artist's lifetime. Jennifer L. Shaw explains that Puvis's paintings were imagined to embody a vision of France. Although his regional images, allegories of the French heritage, and evocations of the nation as an embracing motherland were all part of a grand tradition of public art, Puvis's painting style was more closely aligned with the avant-garde. Rather than providing a specific narrative or allegory of France, Puvis's murals provoked viewers to experience their own fantasies of Frenchness; rather than using the close brushwork favored by most of his contemporaries, Puvis used large flat areas of color to render his subjects. Shaw persuasively argues that Puvis was the only painter of the period to unite the traditions of public art and modernist form. Her original analysis of Puvis's art underlines his importance to the history of modernism; her examination of the public response to his art illuminates debates about art, subjectivity, and national identity in fin de siècle France.
Paris and the Countryside: Modern Life in Late-19th-Century France
It has long been observed that the French Impressionists and their followers heeded Charles Baudelaire's call to paint "modern life." The exhibition catalogue explores what the very notion of a modern life, in its many facets, meant in late-nineteenth-century France, both in Paris and outside it. Gabriel P. Weisberg's essay touches on a range of issues that together capture, from a distinctly human viewpoint, something of the richness and complexity of life in Paris at the time. Using the objects secured for the exhibition, he discusses aspects of urban modernity that diversely affected rich and poor; created opportunities for women as artists, tastemakers, and consumers; spawned and/or sustained an array of performing arts, both highbrow and popular; and embraced the influx of non-French culture.
In her essay, Jennifer L. Shaw offers a thorough overview of the rise of modernism in French landscape painting as it paralleled the desire of artists to demonstrate, through their techniques and choice of subjects, that they belonged to a new era of picture making. Her interpretations of the wide range of landscape paintings in the exhibition bring to life the surprisingly many faces of the French countryside, only fairly recently connected to Paris by train, including travel and leisure, industry and pollution, and artists' colonies and retreats. The scope of this catalogue should inspire viewers and readers to understand something of the vitality of the era as it was experienced by artists and viewers at the time, and in so doing perhaps draw fresh attention to a body of work that has become seemingly all too familiar.