Pierre Paul Puget

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Pierre Paul Puget (October 31, 1622 - December 2, 1694), French painter, sculptor, architect and engineer, was born in Marseilles.

At the age of fourteen he carved the ornaments of the galleys built in the port of his native city, and at sixteen the decoration and construction of a ship were entrusted to him. Soon after he went to Italy on foot, and was well received at Rome by Pietro di Cortona, who employed him on the ceilings of the Barberini Palace and on those of the Pitti at Florence.

In 1643 he returned to Marseilles, where he painted portraits and carved the colossal figure-heads of men-of-war. After a second journey to Italy in 1646 he painted a great number of pictures for Aix, Toulon, Cuers and La Ciotat, and sculptured a large marble group of the Virgin and Child for the church of Lorgues. His caryatides for the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville of Toulon were executed between 1655 and 1657. Nicolas Fouquet employed Puget to sculpture a Hercules for his château in Vaux. The artists desire to paint gradually subsided before his passion for sculpture, and a serious illness in 1665 brought Puget a prohibition from the doctors which caused him wholly to put aside the brush.

After the fall of Fouquet in 1660 Puget moved to Genoa. Here he crafted for Sublet des Noyers his French Hercules (Louvre), the statues of St Sebastian and of Alexandre Sauli in the church of Carignano (c. 1664), and many other works. The Doria family gave him a church to build; the senate proposed that he should paint their council chamber. But Colbert bade Puget return to France, and in 1669 he again took up his old work in the dockyards of Toulon. The arsenal which he had undertaken to construct there under the orders of the duke of Beaufort was destroyed by fire. Disheartened, Puget took leave of Toulon.

In 1685 he went back to Marseilles, where he continued the long series of works of sculpture on which he had been employed by Colbert. His statue of Milo (Louvre) had been completed in 1682, Perseus and Andromeda (Louvre) in 5684; and Alexander and Diogenes (bas-relief, Louvre) in 1685, but, in spite of the personal favour which he enjoyed, Puget, on coming to Paris in 1688 to push forward the execution of an equestrian statue of Louis XIV, found court intrigues too much for him. He was forced to abandon his project and retire to Marseilles, where he remained till his death. His last work, a bas-relief of the "Plague of Milan", which remained unfinished, was placed in the council chamber of the town hail of his native city.

In spite of Puget's visits to Paris and Rome his work never lost its local character: his Hercules is fresh from the galleys of Toulon; his saints and virgins are men and women who speak Provençal. His best work, the St Sebastian at Genoa, though a little heavy in parts, shows admirable energy and life, as well as great skill in contrasting the decorative accessories with the simple surface of the nude. There is in the museum of Aix-en-Provence the bust of a long-haired young man in pseudoclassical costume which is believed to be a portrait of Louis XIV made by Puget at the time of the king's visit in 1660.

See Leon Lagrange, Pierre Puget (Paris, 1868, with a catalogue of works); Charles Ginoux, Annales de la vie de P. Puget (Paris, 1894); Philippe Auquier, Pierre Puget ... biographie critique (Paris, 1903).


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