Maurice CHABAS
(Nantes, 1862 - Versailles, 1947)

Descent from the Cross

79.5 x 63 cm. (31 516 x 24 1316 in.)
1941 Mixed techniques, charcoal, watercolor, India ink, pastel, and gouache on paper laid down on plywood

Signed and dated lower left : Maurice Chabas 1941
Title on verso in ink: No 48 Descente de Croix
Stamp of studio sale on verso: Atelier Maurice Chabas vente Versailles maître Blache 1er octobre 1972 no 71
Several pieces of paper on verso: two press cuttings on Maurice Chabas’ religious art; a typed text, "QUE LE SANG DU CHRIST FASSE PERIR L’ENRACINEMENT DES PASSIONS MATERIELLES ET DEVORANTES" (THAT CHRIST’S BLOOD MIGHT MAKE THE ROOTS OF MATERIAL AND DEVOURING PASSIONS PERISH); and one in the artist’s handwriting: l’Harmonie divine ! oh oui, Très Sainte Vierge, vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes. Vous êtes l’être de Choix de Toujours puisque Dieu l’Eternel Présent vous a désignée pour ce rôle, sublime et unique, mettre au monde le Sauveur"
("The divine Harmony ! oh yes, Very Holy Virgin, you are blessed among all women. You are the being of Choice Forever because God the Eternally Present designated you for this sublime and unique role of bringing the Saviour into this world.”
Added in red pencil: autographe de Maurice Chabas (Maurice Chabas’ handwriting)
79.5 x 63 cm. (31 5/16 x 24 13/16 in.)

• Maurice Chabas Studio Sale, Versailles, Blache, October 1st, 1972, lot 71.
• France, Private Collection

The Artist as Visionary and Humanist
Originally from a family from Nantes, Maurice Chabas was encouraged in his artistic vocation by his father, an amateur painter, as was his younger brother Paul. Maurice and Paul both studied at the Academie Julian under the direction of Bouguereau, Albert Maignan, and Tony-Robert Fleury. Quite different from his brother’s, Maurice Chabas’ œuvre attests to an unrelenting spiritual quest through varied technical and stylistic exploration. During his initial academic training, Chabas was rapidly attracted to the Symbolist trend and was influenced by Puvis de Chavannes, as well as by the Pont-Aven painters. Chabas conceived the artist as a visionary, a witness to invisisble realities which he had a mission to communicate. He asserted that he was an “animist, which means, a seeker of the soul, the individuality of beings, the intimate thoughts they caress, and their momentum.”

Present starting in 1885 at the Salon of French Artists, Maurice Chabas became a fervent supporter of the Rose+Cross in the 1890’s, and participated in each of the movement’s salons. He also exhibited regularly in Nantes and later at the Autumn Salon, the Idealists’ Salon, and the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The artist did not limit himself to easel painting and responded to many public commissions for decorative programs, such as that of the Vincennes town hall or the Blue Train Grand Gallery in the Lyon train station (la Grande Salle du Train Bleu). Maurice Chabas also led an active social life as a humanist involved in diverse artists’ and philanthropic societies. In his salon-studio in Neuilly could be found the Catholic writers Léon Bloy and Maeterlinck, Camille Flammarion who was an astronomer passionate about spiritism, and Peladan, the occultist who founded the Rose+Cross.

A follower of Divisionism for a while, Chabas tended in the years around 1910 to stylistic simplification which became confined to abstraction in the course of the following decade. Thus the artist asserted the relevance of abstract art for communicating religious mysteries. The end of his life – when our work was made – was marked by his voluntary isolation into a sort of mystic retreat begun at the onset of the Second World War. He concentrated at that time on religious subjects which he handled with a characteristic vaporous luminosity.

Our Drawing
The artist entitled his work, Descent from the Cross, and depicted the moment when the iconography resonates like the Pietà: the body of Christ, barely lifted off the Cross, is gathered up by his mother. The Virgin, whom Chabas honors on the back of the picture in an inspired signature, occupies the heart of the drawing. Christ rests on her knees. His head falls backwards and is shown in foreshortening with the beard suggested in the foreground, the crown of jet black thorns is inscribed in contrast against a halo of milky white rays.

Sprouting out of the stretched out corpse, an incandescent tree wraps its fronds around the summary face of the Mater Dolorosa, recalling the Tree of Life that is the Cross, especially as the blood which gushes out of the crucified one’s side is depicted here without disguise in crimson splotches. The rest of the picture is worked in a juxtaposition of charcoal, pastel, watercolor, and ink, highlighted with gouache whose glazes create surprising effects of transparency and depth. The artist draws a dynamic work, woven with spiral and turbulent lines emblematic of this last period. Similar use of the arabesque can be found in a drawing by Chabas depicting Christ’s face in profile, The Master.

General Bibliographie (Unpublished Work)
Myriam DE PALMA, Maurice Chabas (1862 – 1947), peintre et messager spirituel, exh. cat., Pont-Aven Museum, Bourgoin-Jallieu Museum, Somogy, 2009.

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