Saint Geneviève as a Child in Prayer, 1876

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)

  • Oil on Canvas, 136.5 x 76.3
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Between 1764 and 1790 the Panthéon was built in Paris. The building 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. This painting is an oil study for the murals, many metres high, on the theme of Geneviève’s childhood, which the artist produced around 1874-1878. A separate drawing of the figures is also known.

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. Puvis declared that he wanted to represent various layers in reality: the almost supernatural appearance of Geneviève offset by the peasants staring with amazement.

More information about "Saint Geneviève as a Child in Prayer"

Appreciation

Initially Puvis de Chavannes had few admirers; his fairly abstract pictures only won support amongst a small circle of colleagues. It was not until the end of his life that Puvis began to enjoy more appreciation. For example, the much younger painter Pablo Picasso copied large sections of Puvis’ murals in the Panthéon and used these ‘quotations’ in his own work.

Timeless character

The muted, chalky colours are characteristic of work by Puvis de Chavannes. These, together with the simple but powerfully formed figures, give the painting a timeless character. His work forms ‘a strange meeting, by providence ordained, between long flown Antiquity and rough modern times’, as Van Gogh wrote in one of his letters. ‘As they are if possible even vaguer and more prophetic than the work of Delacroix, you are moved on seeing his recent canvases, as if you are a witness to an advancement of everything, an irrevocable but benevolent rebirth.’

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