Saturday, January 22, 2011

addendum ~ Swipe Spot #11

addendum to original post ~

So it was a straight copy from an original Chavannes composition!

At the Fountan c1869 Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Found in the collection of

The particulars-

At the Fountain
about 1869
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, French, 1824–1898
181.6 x 120.0 cm (71 1/2 x 47 1/4 in.)
Oil on canvas

Inscriptions: Lower left: P. Puvis de Chavannes

Classification: Paintings
Type, sub-type: Mythological; Nude

Object is currently not on view

Puvis de Chavannes was widely known for his large-scale murals on classical themes, which decorated public buildings throughout France. He frequently produced smaller-scale "reductions" such as "At the Fountain," which is based on a mural at the museum in Amiens. As a result of his international fame, Puvis was commissioned in 1891 to decorate the main stairwell of the recently completed Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Robert Dawson Evans Collection, 1917
Accession number: 17.3228

Provenance/Ownership History: Please note: the history of ownership is not definitive or comprehensive, as it is under constant review and revision by MFA curators and researchers.

By 1894, Durand-Ruel, New York; 1895, sold by Durand-Ruel to Mrs. Samuel Dennis Warren (Susan Cornelia Clarke Warren) (b.1825 - d.1901), Boston [see note 1]; January 8, 1903, Warren sale, American Art Galleries, New York, no. 121, to Robert Dawson Evans (b.1843 - d.1909), Boston; 1909, by inheritance to Mrs. Robert Dawson Evans (Maria Antoinette Hunt) (b.1845 - d.1917), Boston; 1917, bequest of Mrs. Evans to the MFA. (Accession date: November 1, 1917)

[1] Lent by Mrs. Warren in 1895 to the MFA for an exhibition featuring the work of Puvis de Chavannes, no. 5.


  1. The copy is clearly a Brangwyn, and clearly not a Cornwell. The handwriting of the art is absolutely definitive, even if it were not for all the other factors. Also, Cornwell's studies of other artists' composition, according to 40 illustrators and how they work, were more schematic. Cornwell tended to study design abstractly.

    Also, it is not a swipe, but a study... there is no record of it being published anywhere as a Brangwyn composition for which Brangwyn was paid. (As you are aware, Brangwyn didn't need any help from anybody.)

    Many illustrators were interested in Puvis de Chavannes' work, in particular his aesthetics and compositions.

    The assistant may have been Gerald Merford, Cornwell's last assistant from '57 to '60, as Mr. Merford collaborated with Walt and Roger Reed, the two primary gentlemen of Illustration House, on the Step by Step Graphics (vol3.no3) article on Cornwell. (Although it is impossible to know for sure.)

    Be well you nutty nut,

  2. I lack your certainty. To me it falls into that nebulous area of "attributed to", but hey, Brangwyn or Cornwell, a no loss situation, (except for half the monetary value :( …not that I'm implying anything.)

    The abstract design studies are from a slightly later period, but what of 1925-1931?

    Which makes more sense, Brangwyn the Master straight copying a still rather contemporary artist (I can't recall any copies by him), or Cornwell the eager student of mural/decorative painting?

    I know its not a swipe, ("swipe" gave the post some "spice").

    Thanks for the comment and the info.

  3. The dead giveaway is the softness of the rendering. Cornwell was always more bold and angular. Brangwyn was always more nouveau. I have seen thousands of Cornwell drawings, from his whole career, hundreds in person, and I've never seen one that I mistook for Brangwyn.

    By the time of Cornwell's death, Brangwyn was completely unknown. A young artist working for Cornwell would have revered Cornwell and would certainly rather have a Cornwell drawing than a Brangwyn drawing. So this assistant would not have lied to Walt Reed to make a better sale. And Walt Reed definitely is the kindest, nicest, most honest man you would ever meet, who has nothing but absolute love and respect for the field of illustration. If Walt Reed says something, I am 100 percent sure he absolutely believes it to be so.

    Cornwell was not an eager student of murals, he was a top pro who was already THE compositional master par excellence of the field. (Do you have the Cornwell monograph or Illustration Collector #8?)

    Cornwell was NOT an inverterate drawer for its own sake. He did not have a thing for finishing drawings in a presentation style. I've never seen one. They were always schematic, always meant to help with a painting, act as reference of some phenomena, architecture, or auto, or provide a quick analysis of others work. Brangwyn regularly did finished pencil drawings because that was just his way. And his style of pencil drawing exactly fits the study you posted.

  4. Simply "rhetorical doubts" if you will, again no slight intended. Today I lean definite Brangwyn. (insert link to Traffic song ~ Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring)

    Are there thousands in existence? (With a bit of a stretch I might claim to have seen 500!)

    re WR, I've met him, he is, no doubt.

    re DC, I know he was (composition master). HIs drive and enthusiasm drove him to constantly seek new ideas, forms and outlets …of course he was eager to learn, to make the transition from easel painter-illustrator to muralist. Why else apprentice to Brangwyn at 30(ish)? Just as he had earlier been eager to transition from news-paper cartoonist to painter and sought out Dunn. (note to editor, for future printings substitute dedicated or motivated for the word eager) I have both.

    Though its a complete scene, calling it a 'finished drawing in a presentation style' is just insane! (even for me!!)


  5. Yeah, you're right, "thousands" sounds like an exaggeration. I am sure there are thousands in existence, however. But I have indeed seen hundreds in person, flipping through folios and drawers full of them. All of them were for other projects and not done with the kind of nouveau finish (edited from "Finished Presentation Style" by exaggeration nazis) this piece has.

    If you look at Man of Galilee and City of the Great King, both were done before Cornwell went to study with Brangwyn. And they show all the hallmarks of Mural Composition.

    I think Cornwell mostly needed help with the technical side of applying paint so it stayed on the canvas over a long period of time, working huge, affixing the canvas to the wall, scaffolding, dealing with architects, etc. (When Rockwell met up with the requirements of Murals he threw up his hands and gave the job to Cornwell, as you may know.)

    I have a 300 page book on mural painting techniques from about 1915 or so with lots of Brangwyn work in it, and the whole book is about technical stuff, and nothing about aesthetics or composition or drawing. The amount of info was staggering, with whole chapters on the merits of various canvas types and glues and pigments.

    An argument can be made that Cornwell did adapt a further degree of crispness when he began to do preparatory drawings for murals, and this particular kind of crisp drawing may have had some antecedents in Brangwyn's prep drawings. I have a jpeg of a Cornwell drawing from 1926 that is more searching and fluid that demonstrates the change. But this change more likely had to do with the requirement of mural painting... the necessity for meticulous, soul-deadening preparation in outline.