Not currently on display at the V&A

La Générosité

Oil Painting
1894 (painted)
Artist/Maker

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was born in Lyon and only in 1847, after a first trip to Italy, studied for several months with Henri Scheffer (1798-1862) and subsequently with Louis Bauderon de Vermeron (1809-after 1870). Puvis exhibited for the first time at the Salon in 1850 and developed a vocation for decorative works which would form an important part of his oeuvre. He had a great influence on his generation and the next generation of artists including Paul Gauguin and the Nabis up to Picasso and Matisse.

This painting is a preparatory study for a ceiling decoration in the Hotel de Ville in Paris and is one of his few works in a British public collection. It shows a half-nude female figure flanked by two angels and is an allegory of Generosity. With his simple broad planes and ethereal landscape, Puvis de Chavannes' oeuvre offered a fine example of the Symbolist art.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil and pencil on buff paper mounted on canvas
Brief Description
Oil painting, 'Générosité', Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 1894
Physical Description
In a landscape dominated by an arch-shaped yellow sky, a central seated half-nude female figure dispensing coins and jewels to two winged putti flanking her.
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 142.2cm
  • Estimate width: 284.5cm
Dimensions taken from C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London, 1973
Styles
Credit line
Gift of Mr. Philip Morrell through The Art Fund
Object history
Gift of Mr Philip Morrell through the Art Fund, 1911



Historical significance: This painting is a preparatory study for Puvis' mural painting in the Hotel de Ville, Paris. It depicts a seated half-nude woman flanked by two winged putti and represents an allegory of Generosity (and not Charity as previously thought). This study has the same dimension as the mural version and may therefore be called a cartoon (from the Italian word cartone), a technique going back to the Renaissance and involving a pin-pricked drawing which allows the composition to be transferred directly onto the wall.

Puvis de Chavannes undertook the decoration of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris in 1891, first with the Salon du Zodiac and in 1894, for the Prefect's Staircase. He painted on the ceiling Victor Hugo Offering his Poetic Talent to the City of Paris. The present scene is located just underneath the main central scene in one of the lunettes and is flanked by Patriotism on the left and Charity on the right.

There are tow related drawings for this composition: Nude woman, Eric Carlson collection, New York and Female figure and two genies, Private collection, New York.

The painting displays a restrained palette, dominated by light pastel hues, and simple, broad planes characteristic of Puvis's art. His attraction to ethereal subject matters, with a manifest lack of interest in Realist, Naturalist or Impressionist goals makes him one of the most authoritative exponents of the Symbolist movement in the visual arts together with Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) and Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901).
Historical context
19th-century French art is marked by a succession of movements based on a more or less close relationship with nature. At the beginning of the century, Romantic artists were fascinated by nature they interpreted as a mirror of the mind. They investigated human nature and personality, the folk culture, the national and ethnic origins, the medieval era, the exotic, the remote, the mysterious and the occult. This movement was heralded in France by such painter as Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). In its opposition to academic art and its demand for a modern style Realism continued the aims of the Romantics. They assumed that reality could be perceived without distortion or idealization, and sought after a mean to combine the perception of the individual with objectivity. This reaction in French painting against the Grand Manner is well represented by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who wrote a 'Manifesto of Realism', entitled Le Réalisme published in Paris in 1855. These ideas were challenged by the group of the Barbizon painters, who formed a recognizable school from the early 1830s to the 1870s and developed a free, broad and rough technique. They were mainly concerned by landscape painting and the rendering of light. The works of Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña (1807-1876), Jules Dupré (1811-1889), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Constant Troyon (1810-1865) and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) anticipate somehow the plein-air landscapes of the Impressionists.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was born in Lyon and only in 1847, after a first trip to Italy, studied for several months with Henri Scheffer (1798-1862) and subsequently with Louis Bauderon de Vermeron (1809-after 1870). Puvis exhibited for the first time at the Salon in 1850 and developed a vocation for decorative works which would form an important part of his oeuvre. He had a great influence on his generation and the next generation of artists including Paul Gauguin and the Nabis up to Picasso and Matisse.



This painting is a preparatory study for a ceiling decoration in the Hotel de Ville in Paris and is one of his few works in a British public collection. It shows a half-nude female figure flanked by two angels and is an allegory of Generosity. With his simple broad planes and ethereal landscape, Puvis de Chavannes' oeuvre offered a fine example of the Symbolist art.
Bibliographic References
  • Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900 , London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 83-84, cat. no. 182.
  • National Art-Collections Fund, Fourth Annual Report, 1911, p. 40, repr.
  • V. & A. Museum, Review of the Principal Acquisitions, 1911, p. 25, pl. 9.
  • A. Alexandre, Puvis de Chavannes, 1905, p. xvi.
  • A. Brown Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, vol. II, New Haven and London, 2010, cat. 381, p. 356.
  • A. Brown Price with J. Witheleys and G. Lacambre, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Amsterdam, 1994, no. 141.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design, Accessions 1911, London, Printed for His Majesty’s Stationery Office 1912
  • Jullian, Philippe, French Symbolist Painters: Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, Redon and their followers, London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1972.
Collection
Accession Number
E.917-1911

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record createdMarch 7, 2007
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