Auguste Chabaud (1882-1955)
Madonna and Child
Collection of Modern Religious Art, Inv. 23714

General Description

Chabaud, a Provençal (France) artist, was born in Nîmes in 1882 and died in Graveson in 1955. He moved to Paris in 1888 where he attended several academies (Fernand Cormon, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Académie Carrière) and met the soon to be famous artists of his time, among them Henri Matisse, Jean Puy, André Derain, Georges Braque, and Maurice Vlaminck. His reputation was established by 1912, the year of his one-man show at the Gallery Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. He returned to Graveson to stay in 1919.

A versatile artist, Chabaud was not only a painter and sculptor, but also a writer (e.g., Taureau Sacré, 1926). Considered a Fauvist during the first decade of the twentieth-century, Chabaud excels in contrasting the strong colors of day (yellow, red) and night (dark blue and black) in his paintings about life in Paris. His art work after 1919 shows many landscapes and rural scenes of the region of Les Alpilles. He paints in a style both sculptural and quasi-geometrical, giving marked preference to hues of blue. The sculpture of Madonna and Child in this exhibit was made between 1910-1912. It corresponds to Chabaud’s experimentation with Cubism (1910-1914). Inspired by so-called primitive art, this relatively small sculpture follows the basic patterns of cubism without indulging in radical deconstruction and alienation of form. The basic structure of the human body is safeguarded but reconfigured with geometric blocks. The result is one of delicate union, where the figure of the mother literally hangs on to the child, so much smaller and more fragile than she. He appears as the strong one, upright and solid, while his mother seems to need comfort and security.

The Spirit of Twentieth-century Art

Not beautiful according to standards of classical naturalism, twentieth century religious art presents a challenge to taste as well as to reason. Why is twentieth-century art so different from the artful obviousness of Renaissance and Classicism?

Whatever its content or motif, twentieth-century art has taught us to look at art  concept of his art, sometimes to the point where the shadow of the artist obscures his own work. This is what Merton meant when he said of Picasso, that he was “undoubtedly a great genius . . . but perhaps that is the trouble” (The Hidden Ground of Love, 1985, 129).

Nevertheless, the great merit of twentieth-century art was to explore the deepest recesses of human subjectivity and to make it art-worthy. How important was its contribution to what we call sacred art? Redemption must assume the whole of reality and transform the very core of human selfhood. We may see here one of the most important contributions of twentieth-century art. It shows how deep the human need for redemption is, and how many different facets of personal and collective human history still need to be healed in salvation from God. From Nolde’s Entombment to Picasso’s Guernica and Baldung’s Last Supper, there is hardly an aspect of twentieth-century history that has not been pinpointed as wound, tragedy or open question. The great art of this century is permeated with the heaviness of human existence, and it is not without deeper significance that the Pietà appears as one of the most frequently represented Marian motifs for much of our century.

A comparison may be ventured. Chabaud’s sculpture appears like a reversed Pietà. The mother is the one who clings to life embodied in Christ. She represents in her body the open questions of this age and all times.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog: The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary, pp. 134-135.

For more information on A. Chabaud, see www.museechabaud.com.

For examples of contemporary Marian Art, see The Mary Page: www.udayton.edu/mary/gallery.html

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