Death and the Maidens

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This oil sketch was painted in preparation for a large picture of 1872 (now in the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts). Puvis de Chavannes used it to work out the composition and colour harmonies for a scene in which a group of girls pick flowers in a meadow, oblivious to the sleeping figure of Death.

The painter probably took the idea for the picture from a popular song composed by Schubert, Death and the Maiden. The topic was popular in the Renaissance, especially in Germany, and symbolised the inevitability of death: young or old, rich or poor, the grave awaits us all. As well as transmitting visual pleasure in the untroubled figures of the girls, the fact that Puvis painted Death asleep suggests he meant the viewer to read the painting as an appeal to make the very most of the time we have.

The National Gallery, London



Death and the Maidens


before 1872


Oil on board


H 40.6 x W 31.4 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bequeathed by Arthur Haythorne Studd, 1919

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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