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Dream States: Puvis de Chavannes, Modernism, and the Fantasy of France

by Jennifer Laurie Shaw

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was a towering figure in late nineteenth-century France. The country's greatest public painter, he created murals that decorated museums in Amiens, Rouen, and Lyons as well as major buildings in Paris-most notably the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, and the city hall. Critics from the political right, left, and center, the avant-garde, the Academy, and the state all agreed on the importance of Puvis's murals. Avant-garde artists greatly admired and drew from his work. There was much controversy, however, over the meaning of these murals.

This handsomely illustrated book is the first full-length examination of Puvis's murals and their critical reception during the artist's lifetime. Jennifer L. Shaw explains that Puvis's paintings were imagined to embody a vision of France. Although his regional images, allegories of the French heritage, and evocations of the nation as an embracing motherland were all part of a grand tradition of public art, Puvis's painting style was more closely aligned with the avant-garde. Rather than providing a specific narrative or allegory of France, Puvis's murals provoked viewers to experience their own fantasies of Frenchness; rather than using the close brushwork favored by most of his contemporaries, Puvis used large flat areas of color to render his subjects.

Shaw persuasively argues that Puvis was the only painter of the period to unite the traditions of public art and modernist form. Her original analysis of Puvis's art underlines his importance to the history of modernism; her examination of the public response to his art illuminates debates about art, subjectivity, and national identity in fin de siècle France.

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Dream States

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