Puvis adapted this composition from a mural that he made for the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyons. The pipe-playing shepherd and draped figures pay homage to the poetry and grace of classical antiquity, which Puvis revered as the epitome of beauty. Their rhythmic poses and absorbed demeanor impart a mood of dreamlike serenity to the scene. Pale colors, minimal modeling, and limited detail create an effect of great simplicity and restraint. Puvis’s work inspired numerous younger artists eager for alternatives to Impressionism, including Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat.
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Title:The Shepherd's Song
Artist:Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (French, Lyons 1824–1898 Paris)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:41 1/8 x 43 1/4 in. (104.5 x 109.9 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1906
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): P.Puvis de Chavannes / 1891
[Durand-Ruel, Paris and New York, 1891–92; sold on February 9, 1892 for $4,500, to Kingman]; Alden Wyman Kingman, New York (1892–96; sold on March 5, 1896 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris and New York, 1896–1906; stock no. 1586; sold on April 3, 1906 to The Met]
New York. Durand-Ruel. "Paintings, Pastels and Decorations by M. Puvis de Chavannes," December 15–31, 1894, no. 15 (as "The Shepherd's Song," lent by Mr. A. W. Kingman).
Pittsburgh. Carnegie Art Galleries. "First Annual Exhibition," November 5, 1896–January 1, 1897, no. 233 (as "Shepherd's Song").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Temporary Exhibition," April 1906, no. 26 (as "Le Chant du Berger").
Musée de Lyon. "Puvis de Chavannes et la peinture lyonnaise du XIXe siècle," 1937, no. 42 (as "Le Chant du Berger").
Newark Museum. "19th-Century French and American Paintings from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 9–May 15, 1946, no. 24.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Classical Contribution to Western Civilization," December 15, 1948–January 31, 1949, not in catalogue.
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Portraits, Figures and Landscapes," January 12–February 4, 1951, no. 31.
Winnipeg Art Gallery. "French Pre-Impressionist Painters of the Nineteenth Century," April 10–May 9, 1954, no. 70.
Phoenix Art Museum. "Aspects of the Desert: The Dedication of the Phoenix Art Museum," November 14, 1959–January 31, 1960, no. 25.
London. Hayward Gallery. "French Symbolist Painters: Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, Redon and their Followers," June 7–July 23, 1972, no. 226.
Liverpool. Walker Art Gallery. "French Symbolist Painters: Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, Redon and their Followers," August 9–September 17, 1972, no. 226.
Toronto. Art Gallery of Ontario. "Puvis de Chavannes and the Modern Tradition," October 24–November 30, 1975, no. 32.
Paris. Grand Palais. "Puvis de Chavannes, 1824–1898," November 26, 1976–February 14, 1977, no. 195.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Puvis de Chavannes, 1824–1898," March 18–May 1, 1977, no. 195.
Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 85.
Copenhagen. Statens Museum for Kunst. "Symbolism in Danish and European Painting 1870–1910," September 29, 2000–January 14, 2001, no. 4.
Venice. Palazzo Grassi. "From Puvis de Chavannes to Matisse and Picasso: Toward Modern Art," February 10–June 16, 2002, no. 21.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 44.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Tokyo. Bunkamura Museum of Art. "Arcadia by the Shore: The Mythic World of Puvis de Chavannes," January 2–March 9, 2014, no. 38.
Matsue. Shimane Art Museum. "Arcadia by the Shore: The Mythic World of Puvis de Chavannes," March 20–June 16, 2014, no. 38.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rodin at The Met," September 16, 2017–February 4, 2018, no catalogue.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Letter to Eugène Benon. July 31, 1891 [excerpt published in "Collection de Monsieur X... lettres autographes de peintres des XIXe et XXe siècles," Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 25, 1975, no. 138], asks his friend to look at this painting which is hanging in Durand-Ruel's gallery and is about to be shipped to America.
Arsène Alexandre. Puvis de Chavannes. London, , ill. p. 37, as "The Song of the Shepherd".
Evening Post (April 25, 1906) [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, p. 26], calls it "rarely beautiful".
"Gallery Number XXIV." Scrip 1 (June 1906), p. 291, ill. opp. p. 292, calls it a "beautiful and unmanageable" picture "which nevertheless serves a purpose in marking the gulf between Puvis de Chavannes and what might be called the modern past".
Roger Fry. Letter to Helen Fry. March 16, 1906 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, letter no. 181, p. 258], refers to the MMA acquisition of this picture.
Kenyon Cox. The Classic Point of View: Six Lectures on Painting. New York, 1911, p. 149, pl. 30, as "The Song of the Shepherd"; criticizes the execution of the figures in this picture.
Carl Georg Heise. "Amerikanische Museen." Kunst und Künstler 23 (September 1925), ill. p. 339.
Camille Mauclair. Puvis de Chavannes. Paris, 1928, p. 162, calls it a sketch for "Antique Vision" (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons).
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 79.
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, p. 231, ill., mention a nude study for the seated woman (MMA 35.93.2).
Albert Boime. The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. London, 1971, p. 75, fig. 40, comments on the influence of Thomas Couture in this picture.
Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, pp. 26, 255 n. 1 to letter no. 177 (March 2, 1906), p. 258 n. 4 to letter no. 181 (March 16, 1906).
Mary Anne Stevens and Alan Bowness inFrench Symbolist Painters: Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, Redon and their Followers. Ed. Alan Bowness. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery. London, 1972, pp. 111–12, no. 226, ill.
Richard J. Wattenmaker. Puvis de Chavannes and the Modern Tradition. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario. Toronto, 1975, pp. xxiii, 27–28, 77, 82–83, no. 32, ill., compares it to the "Antique Vision" in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, calling both paintings modern reinterpretations of Giovanni Bellini's "Allegory" (about 1488; Uffizi Gallery, Florence).
Louise d'Argencourt inPuvis de Chavannes, 1824–1898. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. Ottawa, 1977, pp. 193, 215, no. 195, ill. p. 217 [French ed., Paris, 1976, pp. 196, 217, no. 195, ill. p. 219], mentions a related painted reduction in a private collection.
Frances Spalding. Roger Fry: Art and Life. Berkeley, 1980, p. 91.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 235.
Gary Tinterow et al. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 8, Modern Europe. New York, 1987, p. 79, ill. (color).
Denys Sutton inTreasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 1989, p. 23.
Gary Tinterow inTreasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art. [Tokyo?], 1989, pp. 139–40, no. 85, ill. (color).
Kenneth E. Silver. Esprit de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and the First World War, 1914–1925. Princeton, 1989, pp. 276–78, fig. 187, discusses it as a precedent for Picasso's "Three Women at the Spring" (1921, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and his "Pipes of Pan" (1923, Musée Picasso, Paris).
Gary Tinterow. "Letters: The New Rooms at the Metropolitan Museum, New York." Burlington Magazine 136 (April 1994), p. 241.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 435, ill.
Pierre Vaisse inPuvis de Chavannes au Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. [Paris], 1998, p. 47, fig. 26.
Dominique Brachlianoff inPuvis de Chavannes au Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. [Paris], 1998, p. 132, ill., reproduces the drawing of the three figures from the Lyons "Antique Vision" used as a study for this composition.
T. J. Clark. Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism. New Haven, 1999, p. 90, fig. 47 (color), observes this picture's influence on Pissarro's "Two Young Peasant Women" (1892; MMA 1973.311.5).
Peter Nørgaard Larsen inSymbolism in Danish and European Painting 1870–1910. Exh. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst. [Copenhagen], 2000, pp. 24–25, 282, no. 4, ill. (color).
Margaret Werth. The Joy of Life: The Idyllic in French Art, circa 1900. Berkeley, 2002, p. 1, fig. 1.
Gary Tinterow inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, p. 7.
Kathryn Calley Galitz inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 67, 249, no. 44, ill. (color and black and white).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 76, 294, no. 70, ill. (color and black and white).
Caroline Elam. Roger Fry's Journey From the Primitives to the Post-Impressionists. Edinburgh, 2008, p. 16.
Aimée Brown Price. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Vol. 1, The Artist and His Art. New Haven, 2010, pp. 111, 152, 165, colorpl. 190.
Aimée Brown Price. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Vol. 2, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work. New Haven, 2010, pp. 218, 278, 284, 286, 331–33, 349, no. 350, ill. (color), discusses the psychological and physical isolation of the figures; catalogues two oil paintings which may be preparatory sketches for this picture, one of the figures (about 1885–91; Collection Daniel Malingue; Price no. 307) and the other of the landscape setting (about 1890–91; Mercier and Duchemin Gallery, Paris; Price no. 349).
Caroline Elam inCézanne and the Past: Tradition and Creativity. Exh. cat., Szépmüvészeti Múzeum. Budapest, 2012, p. 510 n. 104.
Aimée Brown Price. Arcadia by the Shore: The Mythic World of Puvis de Chavannes. Exh. cat., Bunkamura Museum of Art. Tokyo, 2014, pp. 136–37, 227, 251, 253, no. 38, ill. (color), notes that the trio of figures at right recalls a scene in Theocritus's first idyll; compares the profile poses to those in Hellenic reliefs; indicates underpainting and bare canvas visible in the folds of garments.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 451, no. 410, ill. pp. 412, 451 (color).
Caroline Elam. Roger Fry and Italian Art. London, 2019, pp. 47, 53, 214, 217 n. 27, fig. 1.36 (color).
A reduced version of the Lyons Antique Vision (Price 2010, no. 305) is in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (Price 2010, no 306). Another reduced variant and a landscape study may be preparatory sketches for our painting (Collection Daniel Malingue; Mercier and Duchemin Gallery, Paris; Price 2010, nos. 307, 349). A drawing for The Met's composition is in the Lyons museum and a drawing for the seated woman is in The Met (35.93.2).
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