Hennequin and Puvis de Chavannes : Two Acquisitions for Lyon

1. Philippe-Auguste Hennequin (1762-1833)
The Lyon Rebellion, 1794
Oil on panel - 46.5 x 68.5 cm
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Galerie Michel Descours

19/4/14 - Acquisitions - Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts - Currently staging one of the best exhibitions available at the moment [1], the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon continues its very dynamic acquisitions policy (other pieces will be presented shortly). It recently purchased two studies, one painted, the other a drawing, produced by Lyon artists and acquired from the Galerie Michel Descours.

The first is a work by Philippe-Aguste Hennequin representing The Lyon Rebellion Crushed by the Spirit of Liberty (ill. 1) which he offered to paint for the Maison Commune in Lyon. He provided a description of the study, enabling us to understand the allegory, which he always preferred to be complex : "A young man representing the French people, stands leaning on his club, the federation crushed under his feet ; the poisons, daggers, scepters and crowns lie strewn in pieces around him. The young Hercules holds Liberty in his arms ; his attitude is grand and proud ; Victory follows him with a crown. Reason appears at the foot of a mountain, ordering the destruction of the rebellious city which the indignant population itself demolishes. In one part of the painting, we see the Rhône river sad, downcast, covering its face, wailing for having flown past the walls of a city which was about to snatch France of its Liberty. At the top of the painting, Fame appears proclaiming the triumphs of the French [2].
As pointed out by Mehdi Korchane, who wrote the entry for the catalogue published by the Galerie Descours, this canvas does not exactly correspond to the initial program, as the river god does not show this attitude of shame and despair. He is nevertheless fairly sure that this is a study related to the project submitted for the Concours de l’an II inviting "all the artists of the Republic to represent according to their choice the most glorious periods of the French Revolution on canvas". The large painting, though accepted, was however never finished. We should point out that the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen holds a drawing of the same subject by Hennequin but with a very different composition.

2. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)
Vision antique, c. 1885
Brush, watercolor, graphite - 19.2 x 24.4 cm
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Galerie Michel Descours

3. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)
Vision antique, c. 1885
Oil on canvas - 460 x 578 cm
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : MBA de Lyon

The second study is by Pierre Puvis de Chavanne and prepares one of the compositions decorating the staircase in the museum : Vison antique (ill. 2) which he painted in 1885. In the past several years, Puvis has been presented as a forerunner of modern art, a theory which in our opinion is sometimes a bit forced. In any case, it is true that the very free manner of the drawing style here, using large watercolor blocks, and his way of studying the figures as bluish shadows which are almost abstract does evoke the early 20th century rather than the late 19th. Despite its very sketchy aspect, the work is very close to the final composition (ill. 3).

Version française

Didier Rykner, samedi 19 avril 2014


[1] "L’invention du passé", organized in conjunction with the Monastère de Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse which we will soon review.

[2] This text is quoted by Jérémie Benoît in his monograph on Philippe-Auguste Hennequin published by Arthena in 1994, p. 49.

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