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Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens

Key facts
Full title Death and the Maidens
Artist Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes
Artist dates 1824 - 1898
Date made before 1872
Medium and support Oil on board
Dimensions 40.6 × 31.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Arthur Haythorne Studd, 1919
Inventory number NG3421
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Death and the Maidens
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes

This oil sketch was painted in preparation for a large picture of 1872 (now in the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts). Puvis de Chavannes used it to work out the composition and colour harmonies for a scene in which a group of girls pick flowers in a meadow, oblivious to the sleeping figure of Death.

The painter probably took the idea for the picture from a popular song composed by Schubert, Death and the Maiden. The topic was popular in the Renaissance, especially in Germany, and symbolised the inevitability of death: young or old, rich or poor, the grave awaits us all. As well as transmitting visual pleasure in the untroubled figures of the girls, the fact that Puvis painted Death asleep suggests he meant the viewer to read the painting as an appeal to make the very most of the time we have.

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