Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Saint Geneviève

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, (14 December 1824 – 24 October 1898)
Childhood of St. Geneviève.
The Panthéon, Paris

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)
Saint Geneviève as a Child in Prayer, 1876
Oil on Canvas, 136.5 x 76.3
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
This painting is an oil study for the murals in the Panthéon, many metres high, on the theme of Geneviève’s childhood, which the artist produced around 1874-1878 The young Geneviève kneels in prayer in an Arcadian landscape dotted with sheep. She is watched by several Gauls, who would later become her protégés.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)
Saint Geneviève, solicitiously watches over the sleeping town (detail) 1898
The Panthéon, Paris

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, (14 December 1824 – 24 October 1898) was the foremost French mural painter of the second half of the 19th century. He decorated many public buildings in France (for example, the Panthéon)

His pale colours imitated the effect of fresco.

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.

His painting appealed to both the Post-Impressionists and the Symbolists.

In a letter to J.J. Isaäcson, 25 May 1890, Vincent van Gogh wrote:

"I begin to feel more and more that one may look upon Puvis de Chavannes as having the same importance as Delacroix, at least that he is on a par with the fellows whose style constitutes a “hitherto, but no further,” comforting for evermore. ...

Among other pictures his canvas, now at the Champ de Mars, seems to contain an allusion to an equivalence, link to Saint Geneviève as a Child in Prayer a strange and providential meeting of very far-off antiquities and crude modernity. His canvases of the last few years are vaguer, more prophetic if possible than even Delacroix, before them one feels an emotion as if one were present at the continuation of all kinds of things, a benevolent renaissance ordained by fate...

Look here, there is another question that comes to mind. Who are the human beings that actually live among the olive, the orange, the lemon orchards?

The peasant there is different from the inhabitant of Millet’s wide wheat fields. But Millet has reawakened our thoughts so that we can see the dweller in nature. But until now no one has painted the real Southern Frenchman for us.

But when Chavannes or someone else shows us that human being, we shall be reminded of those words, ancient but with a blissfully new significance. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure of heart, words that have such a wide purport that we, educated in the old, confused and battered cities of the North, are compelled to stop at a great distance from the threshold of those dwellings. "

The Panthéon was initially designed as a church, dedicated to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of the city.

From 1874 twelve artists, including Puvis de Chavannes, were involved in the decoration of the Panthéon.

St. Genevieve was the patroness of Paris. She was born between 419 and 422 in Nanterre where she heard the preaching of St. Germain.

She later came to Paris where she led a life of piety, and in 451 when Attila approached the city, she encouraged the citizens not to flee but to do works of penance and the town would be spared.

Attila and his hordes did in fact spare the town.

When she died in 512 her body was buried in a small church she had built and miracles were performed there.