Published  02/09/2002

Spirits drained: Puvis De Chavannes returns

The National Gallery, London does not best mourn Ian MacGregor’s departure with this valedictory recovery of the work of Pierre-Cecile Puvis de Chavannes, (d.1898). Although the most famous muralist in France when he died aged 78, and often credited together with Gustave Moreau, de Chavannes might have been allowed to R.I.P. But no, as often happens with revisionary Venice, a mega-show of his work hit the canals last spring, proud with the claim that the artist was the father of modern art (ever heard of Cézanne?) Two paintings co-exist in this London revocation, The Beheading of St John the Baptist (National Gallery) and from the Barber Institute, Birmingham. Both are dated l869 and all sense of spirituality (or urgency for that matter) is drained from each example. The beheader in the National Gallery’s work appears to be machetting undergrowth beside a bemused Baptist. The Barber Baptist by contrast benefits from the glowing, protective halo. Now transferred to his person and one must assume that assurance accounts for the tilted pose of Salome who appears merely curious. The weeping servant and consumer-oriented Herod being no longer present in this version. The two works are on show until 27 October. Come back Ian.

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