Puvis de Chavannes
L’Automne or Le Verger  (now titled Woodland Scene), c. 1887-92
Oil on canvas, 31 ½ x 30 in. (80 x 99 cm)
The City College, City University of New York

Style and subject
L’Automne is typical of the artist’s mature work, a poetic pastoral scene featuring children gathering fruit under the attentive eye of a woman draped à l’antique.

To the Armory Show
This was among fifteen of the French master’s paintings and drawings on view at the Armory Show. Most came from the collection of the New York attorney John Quinn, who was a major contributor to the exhibition. L’Automne was lent by the Chicago collector Martin A. Ryerson, who was a founding trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and one of its most important donors.

A didactic mission
The Armory Show was not designed purely for shock value; its organizers also sought to educate viewers in the latest styles. Situating the newest movements within the history of art, the Armory Show traced a modernist trajectory originating from nineteenth-century French painting. As one of the few artists admired by conservative and avant-garde artists alike, Puvis played a pivotal role in this didactic mission, becoming an interpretive lens through which to understand the innovations of modernism.

A New York exclusive
Though praised by New York critics as “highly spiritual” and possessing “noble vitality,” Puvis’ work did not travel to Boston or Chicago, where his reputation was already well established in public and private collections. [1] The exhibition was considerably smaller in both cities and focused increasingly on the most radical work in the show.

A recent discovery
Scholars had previously misidentified this painting from the Armory Show as The Fisherman’s Family (1887), which Ryerson gave to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915. But after extensive new research, the art historian Aimée Brown Price, who has published extensively on the artist, discovered it in the collection of the City College of New York.

[1] The criticism is from “International Art,” The Evening Post [New York], February 20, 1913, 9.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)

The French muralist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes made his reputation in the nineteenth century by pioneering radical, innovative aesthetic constructs while working within classical and religious imagery. He was already well known in the United States by the time of the Armory Show in 1913: his paintings were reproduced in American publications, exhibited in galleries and museums, and collected by those seeking art in an inventive but acceptable modernist style. [1] His work was also a major influence on a number of American artists, including Arthur B. Davies, President of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. [2] Davies had seen a major exhibition of Puvis’s art in New York in 1888 and probably saw more of it in Paris in 1895. [3] He also owned twenty-four drawings by the French master. [4]

Davies ensured that Puvis’s work held an important place in the Armory Show. One of the organizers’ goals for the exhibition was to educate viewers on the evolution of modern art—from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and Gustave Courbet to the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Cubists. To that end, they showed a number of historical works, and Davies devised and published a “Chronological Chart Outlining the Growth of Modern Art.” [5] Its message was that the last hundred years of art to its current stage displayed a clear progression, as one innovation led to another. The outline was meant to normalize the new and to demonstrate that many artists whose work once seemed outrageous had a later history of being acclaimed. Given his popularity in the United States and his influence on American painters, it is no surprise that Puvis was highlighted among the historical painters: fifteen works by him were included in the exhibition, all lent by American collectors.

[1] See Aimée Brown Price, “Puvis de Chavannes, Pioneer and Paragon of Modernism,” in The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution, ed. Kimberly Orcutt and Marilyn Kushner, exh. cat. (New York: New-York Historical Society, 2013).

[2] His was also a major influence on the muralists Kenyon Cox and Edwin Blashfield and the painters Arthur Wesley Dow and Maurice Prendergast. See Aimee Brown Price “Puvis de Chavannes and America,” in Toward Modern Art: From Puvis de Chavannes to Matisse and Picasso, ed. Serge Lemoine (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), 201.

[3] Price, “Puvis de Chavannes As Pioneer and Paragon of Modernism,” 233.

[4] Susan Elizabeth Earle, “Puvis de Chavannes and America: His Artistic and Critical Reception, 1875-1920” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, Institute of Fine Arts, 1998), 272.

[5] The chart was published in Arts & Decoration 4, no. 3 (March 1913): 150.

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