Video: Dreaming on Canvas

Senior Irina Markina explores influential French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ “subjective realities”
January 30, 2013

As an art history minor studying in in Lyon, France, Irina Markina became enamored with the soothing atmosphere that influential French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes was able to create with his murals. “They had a dream-like quality that inspired calmness and contemplation and made the viewer forget the cacophony of the modern city,” says Markina, a double major in Romance languages—French and Italian. “However, it was difficult for me to pinpoint exactly how the murals induced this effect and that is what led me to research his work.”

In order to further understand Puvis’ style, Markina studied greater French society and the artistic tendencies of the painter’s time period. Unlike previous generations, Puvis and his contemporaries were not creating art that was subject to rational interpretation. Instead, they were appealing to the emotions of their audience.

“This was extremely new in a society dominated by men who prided themselves on their ability to objectively reason through problems,” says Markina. “At a time when critics dreaded the death of art—a fear in part fueled by the invention of photography—Puvis presented a new path.” Subsequently, avant-garde artists followed his lead and the belief that art could be enjoyed on a completely subjective level eventually led to explorations of abstraction and the emotive effects of color.

Markina plans to build on her research and write a senior thesis on modern French identity and the dialogue that occurred between artists and writers in 19th century France. “Overall, it was a truly enriching experience that helped me to explore my interests and I am grateful to my advisor, Professor of Romance Languages Gerald Prince, and to CURF [the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships] for making it possible.”

Learn more about her research in the video below: