His Most Famous Painting (The Poor Fisherman) – Pierre Puvis De Chavannes

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (December 14, 1824 – October 24, 1898) was a Symbolist painter of France. He had a defining influence on the entire generation of artists – painters and sculptors – that followed him. His works however, were often criticized as being discordant and inappropriate for the public tastes. Many of his works were based on mythological subjects that carried a strong presence of his seminal touche. The innovative techniques and the treatment of paintings were the leading causes for Pierre’s criticism. People were not open to any kind of deviation from the elaborate designs of the fresco paintings of those times. Pierre’s reputation however, remained undisputed and during the last twenty years, his popularity surged. Created in 1881, “The Poor Fisherman” is his most famous works of all times.

Chavannes’ “The Poor Fisherman” is a large sized frame, 283/4″ X 36 1/4″ in dimensions. Currently placed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, it is a simple, yet radical oil work on canvas. It was a revolutionary creation for that era, where eroticism, mythology, nature, and leisure activities were the popular choices for themes in artworks. This painting is an embodiment of stark reality and the looming misery of a poor angler’s family. The mood of the work is somber and is aptly depicted by the cheerless backdrop of clouded evening sky, being reflected in the large water body below. At the corners of the frame, raised land pieces, in dull purple and greenish-gray tones, are visible. The helpless fisherman is the central figure of the piece, shown standing in his boat near the shore. His hands are clasped near his stomach and his head bent down, with a bleak expression on his face.

Since the beginning, critics and viewers have tried to draw an analogy between this fisherman and Jesus Christ, praying before his crucifixion. Even the piece of land on the right side, together with the pole of the mast, is believed to symbolize a cross. The old gray boat and the fishing rod of the fisherman, perfectly complement the character of the “The Poor Fisherman.” In the background, there is a young girl in purple attire, plucking flowers from the ground below. Lying near her is an infant, partially wrapped in a red cloth. According to Chavannes’ explanation, the girl is the elder sister of the child. This is an indirect reference to Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who lost his mother at an early age, to be brought up by his sister. “The Poor Fisherman” is a moving piece that is remarkable for its beautiful blend of simplicity and the defining attention to details, which marks it as the turning point in the history of art.