Nick says of Mr. Deacon: “Puvis de Chavannes and Simeon Solomon, the last of whom I think he regarded as his master, were the only painters I ever heard him speak of with unqualified approval.” [BM 9/5]
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was a prominent French painter of the mid nineteenth century, known as a Symbolist and as co-founder of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Artes. As a painter, he rejected realism in favor of a synthetic idealism, and he transformed traditional linear perspective into an expressive tool by routinely collapsing or compressing space in his images. He was radical for his time and influenced many strands of the development of Modernism (see Musee d’Orsay on his work The Poor Fisherman). We have chosen to show Le Travail, because it almost satisfies Mr. Deacon’s preference for “exclusively male figure compostions.” Like Alma Tadema and other British nineteenth century painters whom Deacon did not despise, Puvis de Chavannes fell from fashion early in the twentieth century.
Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) first exhibited at the Royal Academy at age 18. His early paintings share the flamboyance and mastery of his Pre-Raphaelite mentors Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Millais; his later work is more intimate and favors feeling over bravura draftsmanship and paint handling. Solomon’s themes drew heavily on his Jewish heritage and the Old Testament. He became friendly with Swinburne, whose interests in classicism and erotica, helped move Solomon toward Aestheticism, “art for art’s sake.” His celebrity grew until 1873, when he was arrested for attempted sodomy at a public urinal in London. Later, he was arrested again for sodomy in Paris. Although he continued to paint, he fell from public attention and lived a life of alcohol abuse and poverty, until he died at St. Giles’s Workhouse in Bloomsbury. Presumably, his lack of official approval and bohemian life style enhanced Mr. Deacon’s attraction to him.