Death and the Maidens

Death and the Maidens

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
French (1824-1898)
1872
Oil on canvas

Like the Franz Schubert song "Death and the Maiden," written in 1817, Puvis's painting addresses the themes of the fragility of youth and the inevitability of death. The female figures at the top of the painting seem to dance precariously on the edge of a cliff. Two other young women stand on the right, one blowing on a dandelion, the other gazing thoughtfully into space -- her face is turned toward the dark-cloaked figure of the Grim Reaper, lurking ominously among the cut flowers. Although its theme is the transience of human life, Puvis's picture, with its pale colors and static poses, has all the monumentality of a fresco; in fact Puvis painted decorations for many public buildings in France and elsewhere, including the public library in Boston.

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