As part of its series devoted to rediscovering the masters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Petit Palais is presenting the firstever retrospective of the work of painter George Desvallières (1861–1950), bringing together 90 paintings, drawings, stained glass pieces, tapestries and other works drawn from French museums and private collections. The exhibition coincides with the publication of the catalogue raisonné of Desvallières’s complete works, edited by Catherine Ambroselli de Bayser. Desvallières’s powerful style is embodied in figures drawn from heroic antiquity and, later, in the deep expression of a religious faith rekindled by his experience of the First World War. Committed and engaged, Desvallières was an exceptional figure whose work immerses us in the creative world of the interwar years.
Initially a secular painter championed by Gustave Moreau, Desvallières combined an early rejection of academic teaching with a wide-ranging artistic curiosity. His style evolved towards a critical naturalism depicting the cosmopolitan nights of London and Montmartre. His involvement in the founding of the Salon d’Automne, first held at the Petit Palais in 1903, marked a turning point in his career. Defying the critical attacks of the time, he opened the Salon’s doors to the Fauvists, then the Cubists. In his maturity he rediscovered his religious roots, and with the forceful backing of Léon Bloy he joined Georges Rouault in espousing a militant, socially conscious Christianity. He was a battalion commander during the
First World War, and when he returned from the front commissions for monuments made him one of the first artists to depict the unparalleled experience of the battlefield. Spiritually driven by his wartime sufferings, he became a leading advocate of a new sacred art, and with Maurice Denis he shaped a new generation of Christian
Hailed at the Petit Palais’s «Masters of Independent Art» exhibition in 1937, the Desvallières oeuvre is once more in the limelight in this chronological account of the sixty years of his career. The monumental character of his painting stands revealed in a constant tension between body and mind, between the carnal and the spiritual.
A video presentation will cover his major religious and commemorative pieces in Paris, Douaumont and elsewhere.
The catalogue accompanying the exhibition provides further insight into a singular painter who made a major impact on his time.
Isabelle Collet, chief curator, Petit Palais
Catherine Ambroselli de Bayser, academic adviser