Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Standing Man with Arms Clasped at his Chest: Study for The Prodigal Son
ca. 1879
Charcoal and graphite on translucent paper, squared in charcoal.
17 1/8 x 8 1/4 inches (435 x 210 mm)
Thaw Collection.

A man clad in a ragged garment, his head bowed in humility, and his hands clasped to his chest: this poignant figure is part of Puvis de Chavannes process of developing the composition for the austere canvas "The Prodigal Son," ca. 1879, now in the E.G. Bührle Foundation, Zurich. The standing figure with his arms folded was one the artist explored in drawings and oil sketches in 1878-79 and would pick up again in the late 1880s in "The Shepherd (or The Storm)," 1887 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
The drawing is executed on tracing paper, overlaid with a grid further divided into quartered squares for transfer to the canvas. The painted figure follows this study, although the canvas shows him half-seated on a large log rather than freestanding. Another version of the composition, now in the Princeton University Art Museum, does not take this subtle study drawn from life into account: the painted figure is thin and stiffly posed, half standing and half-seated against a large log and looking ahead with a forlorn expression. Another version, apparently from the same year, shows the Prodigal Son seated on the ground, naked except for a short cloth around his waist, but with his hands clasped to his chest and head bowed. However, Puvis de Chavannes used a different model with a full beard for the figure.
The parable of the prodigal son is told in the biblical Gospel of Luke. The younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the estate rather than set to work in the fields like his brother. He leaves, squanders the money, and hungry and penniless, goes to work for a pig farmer. Chagrined, he returns home to work in his father's fields as a hired servant. His father receives him with compassion and throws a feast to celebrate his return, "this son of mine was dead and he is alive again, he was lost and is found."
Price, Aimée Brown, and Puvis De Chavannes, Pierre. "Pierre Puvis De Chavannes / Aimée Brown Price." New Haven [Conn.]; London: Yale UP, 2010, II, 227.


Stamped 1.1. PPC

By descent through the artist's family; Galerie De Bayser, Paris; Eugene V. (1927-2018) and Clare E. Thaw (1924-2017), New York.
Associated names: 

Thaw, Eugene Victor, former owner.
Thaw, Clare, former owner.


Thaw Catalogue Raisonné, 2017, no. 306, repr.