Puvis de Chavannes and Simeon Solomon

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]

Puvis de Chavannes

Le Travail
Puvis de Chavannes, 1863
Musee de Picardie
photo public domain from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Love in Autumn Simeon Solomon, 1866 photo public domain for Wikimedia Commons better images available at

Love in Autumn
Simeon Solomon, 1866
photo public domain fromWikimedia Commons  

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.

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3 Responses to Puvis de Chavannes and Simeon Solomon

  1. Andrew Clarke says:

    Edgar’s paintings tend to omit what Barnby calls “the female form divine”. Solomon’s art does include females, but they tend to look either threatening or, to say the least, androgynous, or both. Edgar would have quietly approved of *that* element of Solomon’s bohemian life style, but surely he was too careful of his health and his financial outgoings to have approved of the alcohol and the poverty, let alone the workhouse?

  2. Andrew Clarke says:

    Another 19th century French artist, mentioned by Nick in conversation with Barnby in The Acceptance World, is William Adolphe Bouguereau. Like Bosworth Deacon, this saloniste has enjoyed a recent revival in popularity. His painting of Venus’s arrival in Cyprus may be the source of the conch-blowing centaurs mentioned on the very last page of Hearing Secret Harmonies. A para or two on Bouguereau – who Powell loathed – mightn’t go astray on this excellent website. There is an Hotel de Bouguereau et des Artistes in one of Powell’s late novels. Powell’s opinion can be found in “Some Artists, Writers, and a Reference for Mellors”.

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