Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Download image: 
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Man Blowing a Horn: Study for "Winter" or "Esau Returning from the Hunt".
Black chalk on pink paper, faded.
13 3/8 x 8 inches (340 x 203 mm)
Gift of John M. Thayer.

Liberated by his family's wealth to pursue his work with freedom and without the need to compete for admission or prizes, Puvis began his career as a painter educating himself through travel and a study of earlier painting. He chose to focus on decorative mural projects instead of easel painting. One of his first projects was the decoration of his brother's dining room at the family's country home outside of their native Lyon. Located at Brouchy, between Lyon and Dijon, in a rural area, the house lent itself well to the theme of the hunt. He executed five large oils on canvas, which were embedded in the paneled walls of the dining room between 1854-55. The decorations are united by several themes: an overall connection to food and dining told through biblical stories that correspond to the seasons. Spring features the miraculous draught of fishes, summer Ruth and Boaz at the harvest, wine pressing and Noah's drunkenness for autumn, and the return from the hunt with Jacob and Esau for the winter. The fifth mural is devoted to the return of the prodigal son. In addition, there were four overdoors for the room with more general allegorical subjects: war, peace, the arts and the sciences. The Return from the Hunt exists in an oil sketch (unlocated), the in-situ painting, an enlarged version from 1859 (Musée des beaux-arts, Marseille), and a small panel in blue monochrome from ca. 1862 (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Since the dining room panels are over eight feet tall and between seven to ten feet wide, the figures are lifesize. Such complex, large-scale compositions required extensive preparatory work. Drawings in chalk, and studies in oil, helped Puvis develop the arrangements and also reveal his personal, non-academic manner. This study is for the figure who announces the hunt with a blow of his horn at left in the canvas. While the model for the figure was muscular and bearded, the figure in the final painting is a smooth-limbed, clean-faced boy, which suggests this is an early study made to determine the figure's pose as the composition took shape. The model is evidently posing in the studio, as he leans with his right hand on a support as he holds his pose
An inscription on the verso suggests the study could be connected with the artist's murals for the Palais de Longchamp in Marseilles, which housed the city's new Musée des beaux-arts, but it does not seem to relate to any figure in the completed compositions.


Inscribed on verso in graphite, "Puvis de Chavannes / Etude pour Roland a [illegible] / Palais de Langobard (?) Marseille".

Galerie Fischer-Kiener, Paris; John M. Thayer (1944-2004), Wilmington, DE.