Puvis de Chavannes was born Pierre-Cecile Puvis de Chavannes in 1824. As a young student, he had planned to follow his father in the field of engineering. His father was an engineering entrepreneur from an aristocratic lineage. However, while completing his engineering degree at the Ecole Polytechnique, de Chavannes fell ill, and subsequently, he took a trip to Italy, where he decided to change his career path to that of an artist. He was inspired by classical and Renaissance artwork first and foremost, as one can see in his work depicted mythical figures and classical architecture. Rather than completing his studies at the college, de Chavannes studied painting directly from other prolific artists of the day, such as Eugene Delacroix.
On a second trip to Italy, de Chavannes became convinced of the prime importance of decorative art, such as the murals for which he is best known today. While his earliest exhibited works show a little of the artist he would become, it wasn’t until de Chavannes was commissioned to paint the frescoes at the Amiens Museum that he could explore his calling to paint large-scale. These particular works were derided by his peers initially.
About a decade later, in 1876, de Chavannes was commissioned to paint a series of murals inside the Church of St. Genevieve depicting the early life of the church’s saint. These murals were positively reviewed by fellow artists and art critics alike. In the years that followed, de Chavannes was commissioned to paint other murals such as at the Saint-Pierre Palace in Paris, the Lyons Museum of Fine Arts, the Hotel de Ville, and further artworks for the Church of St. Genevieve. In the later years of his life, he was even sought after by the City of Boston to decorate their public library.
In addition to his decorative paintings, de Chavannes also painted many large easel paintings of historical subjects, such as Mary Magdalene at Saint Baume and The Poor Fisherman.
Puvis de Chavannes, for all that he was disregarded in his youth, was held in high regard by his peers and by young aspiring artists in his old age. He was elected President of the Society of Fine Arts in France unanimously in 1891 and was known to support both traditional artists like himself and modern artists, making him well-respected by all.
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