Paul Chenavard (1807-1895), draughtsman, by Pierre-Olivier DOUPHIS

Doctoral thesis
Supervisor: Professeur Bruno Foucart
Paris IV-Sorbonne

The Lyons artist Paul Chenavard was one of the most eminent cultural figures of the 19th century, although he was known more for his encyclopedic knowledge and his reputation as conversationalist than for his artistic output. He did however design an imposing project (rejected by the powerful clerical faction) for the interior decoration of the Pantheon in Paris in 1848. In revenge, Chenavard bargained his support for the Coup d'Etat in return for a block on the plan for the Pantheon to become once more an ecclesiastical building. It would appear that Napoleon III had no hand in the rejection of Chenavard's Pantheon project. The emperor never criticised his work, and in July 1853 the artist was to receive the Légion d'honneur, following the exhibition of five of his paintings of the Pantheon, as a sort of reward.

Chenavard's eviction from the Pantheon, shortly after 2 December, 1851, greatly affected the artist. But even though he abandoned painting he did not give up creating. The Second Empire was for him a period of great sculptural, architectural and even civil engineering projects, often directly linked with the work of Baron Haussmann in Paris.

In 1853, in concert with the sculptor Jean-Auguste Barre (medal founder and official sculptor of the Imperial family) he made the proposal that the Arc de triomphe de l'Etoile in Paris should be topped with a representation of Napoleon Ist as victor in a chariot accompanied by Glory, Fame, three of his brothers and his brother in law, Murat. At the same period he wished to build another 'arc de triomphe' dedicated to industrial and civic glory and set in the Place du Trône in eastern Paris. His idea was that the two arches would form the two main gates to the city, themselves linked by one of the arms of Haussmann's 'grande croisée'.

During the 1860s, he proposed the digging of canal from Dieppe to Paris so as to turn the capital into a sea port, and this project was to be his obsession until his death. Indeed he even had the idea of prolonging the canal as far as the Mediterranean and having it cross another at Lyons running from Germany to the Atlantic, thus making France a great economic power and less turned in on itself.

During the Second Empire, he was also to propose a certain number of commemorative sculptures to be set on the tombs of great men or in public squares, for example (in 1858) an aedicule upon the tomb of François Arago in the Père Lachaise cemetery, and later in 1862 a monument to the De Maistre brothers in Chambéry.

None of these monuments were ever built and they are only known from a few drawings and certain documents. And despite the fact that they reveal a new facet of the artist (as a creator of monuments), no other researchers have taken this into account. Furthermore, whilst there are few paintings by Chenavard, many drawings and sketches survive (mostly for works never painted). Such was the case with the 1831 composition Mirabeau apostrophant le marquis de Dreux-Brézé, done for a competition organised by Louis-Philippe to find new decoration for the Assemblée nationale. Similarly, another historical composition exists in the form of the 1833 Une séance à la Convention nationale, showing the night in which the convention voted for the death of Louis XVI.

The aim of this study is to provide a "catalogue raisonné" of the graphic works by Chenavard, in which these works (that is, the known drawings, in particular those in public collections, especially the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, the largest repository of his work in that the artist bequeathed them to the museum, and also the unknown ones, such as the sculptural and architectural projects) are presented in chronological order.

I shall also consider the problems raised by the drawings (dating, technique, subjects, dedicatees), establish the correct order for the Pantheon project, and consider the various projects which Chenavard came up with throughout his life in the context of 19th-century ideas and influences.


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