This is a reduced version of a mural Puvis completed in 1889 for the Sorbonne, part of the University of Paris. The gridlines used to transfer the composition are visible through the matte, fresco-like passages of paint. According to the artist, the secular Madonna at center personifies the school. To the left stands a woman representing eloquence, surrounded by manifestations of poetry. The youths and the old man drinking from the stream at right indicate that knowledge nourishes people of all ages. Figures symbolizing philosophy and history appear at far left, and embodiments of the sciences and mathematics are at far right.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): P.Puvis de Chavannes. 1889
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1889; stock no. 2546; sold on October 30, 1889 to Havemeyer]; Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (1889–his d. 1907); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929; cat., 1931, pp. 166–67, ill.)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 93 (as "The Sacred Grove") [2nd ed., 1958, no. 179].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A438.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Letter. 1889 [excerpt published in L. Wehrlé, "Lettres (1888–1898)," La Revue de Paris 18 (February 1, 1911), p. 456], states that he modified this picture in order to make it less crude and more marketable, commenting that it "a pris un aspect moins cruel pour les bourgeois".
[Roger Riordan]. "The Atelier: Puvis de Chavannes. I." Art Amateur 24 (December 1890), p. 5, calls it a cartoon of the Sorbonne mural, "touched up since the completion of the work" and notes that it is currently on loan to the MMA by Mr. Havemeyer.
Camille Mauclair. Puvis de Chavannes. Paris, 1928, p. 162, lists it as a sketch for the Sorbonne decoration.
"The H. O. Havemeyer Collection." Parnassus 2 (March 1930), pp. 5, 7–8.
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. "The Havemeyer Pictures." The Arts 16 (March 1930), p. 483, ill. p. 455, as "The Sacred Grove"; calls it a finished study for the Sorbonne decoration; suggests that the Havemeyers only purchased this and other Puvis pictures through Cassatt's persuasion.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, pp. 166–67, ill., as "The Sacred Grove"; calls it a sketch for the Sorbonne decoration.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 229–30, ill., call it a reduced version of the completed Sorbonne mural; note that it possibly influenced Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" (1897–98; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
Carl R. Baldwin. The Impressionist Epoch. Exh. brochure, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [New York], 1974, p. 23.
Richard J. Wattenmaker. Puvis de Chavannes and the Modern Tradition. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario. Toronto, 1975, p. 23 n. 4.
Frances Weitzenhoffer. "The Creation of the Havemeyer Collection, 1875–1900." PhD diss., City University of New York, 1982, pp. 112–13, 132, 143 n. 21, fig. 21.
Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 60, 66, 177, 257.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 210.
Gretchen Wold inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 371, no. A438, ill.
Aimée Brown Price. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam, 1994, pp. 21, 27 n. 100, p. 256.
Aimée Brown Price. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Vol. 1, The Artist and His Art. New Haven, 2010, pp. 136, 165, 215 n. 405, refers to it as both a reduced version of and a "difficult oil sketch" for the Sorbonne mural; notes that it was purchased by the Havemeyers soon after its completion.
Aimée Brown Price. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Vol. 2, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work. New Haven, 2010, pp. 312, 315, no. 333, ill., calls it a study for the Sorbonne mural, describing it as "essentially a grand oil sketch that sets out all the elements of the great sacred grove".
Two years before the completion of the Sorbonne mural (Price no. 335), Puvis made a cartoon for it, which he exhibited at the Salon of 1887 (Price no. 332).