The Artists

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
The Forgotten Master

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The Artists
Portrait of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

You can be conservative in art, but then history leaves you behind. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes founded the French artist society Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and painted so many public commissions he was known in his day as “the painter for France.” Yet poor Pierre has all but disappeared from the canon of popular art history.

A stolid loner, Pierre Puvis had no classical education, but worked in a way Émile Zola described as “art made of reason, passion, and will.” Puvis’s artwork was rigorous and logical, and most often commissioned as murals for public spaces. His paintings are quiet, but beautiful, with elegant composition and soft flattened hues reminiscent of Giotto’s pastel frescos. So why did we forget about him?

Puvis worked during a cultural divide in France. After the French revolution of 1789, the Royalists hoped to return France to its traditional values, and Puvis became their voice. His meditative classical work stood in direct contrast to the plein-air experiments of the Impressionists or the radical color of the Fauves. His work was safe. It was acceptable. It was non-controversial. The quiet dignity of Puvis’s scenes influenced the burgeoning Symbolist movement, with artists like Maurice Denis elevating the structural forms with a sense of metaphysical authority. But Puvis himself has faded into history, and we can’t help but wonder—what does it take to make work that lives on? Is comfortable art forgotten? Is it the challenging work that lasts?

Reed Enger, "Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The Forgotten Master," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 20, 2016; last modified September 19, 2022,

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes was a French artist born on December 14, 1824. Puvis de Chavannes contributed to the Symbolist movement and died on October 24, 1898.

Cider, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Cider 1864

The River, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

The River 1864

The Wine Press, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

The Wine Press 1865

Fantasy, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Fantasy 1866

Massilia, Greek Colony, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Massilia, Greek Colony 1868 – 1869

Young Girls by the Seaside, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Young Girls by the Seaside 1879

La Toilette, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

La Toilette 1883

Tamaris, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Tamaris 1886 – 1887

Patriotic Games, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Patriotic Games 1883 – 1889

The Shepherd's Song, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

The Shepherd's Song 1891

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