— Orphic Hymn to Pan (2nd c. CE)
Executed in 1920 the present work predates by three years the second version of this subject in the collection of the Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva. Among Schwabe’s most iconic works, L’heure du faune is a tour de force of masterful draughtsmanship, showing Schwabe at the height of his artistic capabilities. While the Geneva version shows the Faun walking through a wheat field in high summer, here Schwabe depicts his faun with an almost photographic realism in a spring meadow, surrounded by open countryside. The glow of the setting sun bathes the solitary faun in a warm light.
As a symbolic corollary of human existence, Schwabe often drew upon plants at different stages of their development – budding, blossoming or withering – to convey meaning. L’heure du faune shows the primeval energy and vitality of spring. Schwabe’s delicate and joyful attention to detail intensifies the allegory of this youthful profusion of growth.
A symbol of independence, power, wildness, vitality, sexuality, fertility and virility, and associated with the gods Pan and Dionysus, fauns represent the essence of nature, male sexuality and the energy of life. Schwabe had first depicted this mythological creature in an illustration for a poem by Albert Samain, Au jardin de l’infante in 1908. The faun theme was likely inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé's L'après-midi d'un faune and Debussy’s symphonic Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, which in turn served as the scenario for a ballet Afternoon of a Faun choreographed to Debussy's score in 1912 by Vaslav Nijinsky. Schwabe was also close to the composer Paul Dukas, who wrote a short piano piece La plainte au loin du faune in 1920 as an homage to the deceased Debussy.
The verticality of the faun, juxtaposed against the horizontal lines of the field and sky imbue the figure with monumentality, while the positioning of his leg and his bent posture suggest movement. As in Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, only the flute of the faun pervades the stillness of the meadow.
Born in Hamburg, Carlos Schwabe became a Swiss citizen in 1888 and studied at the Ecole des Arts Industriels in Geneva. He later moved to France, living in Paris and near Barbizon. From 1891, he exhibited at the Salons de la Société Nationale and with the Salon Rose + Croix. For the latter Salon he produced the poster for the Rose + Croix inaugural exhibition at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1892.
An illustrator of Emile Zola's Le Rêve (published 1892), Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (1900), Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande, Catulle Mendes's L'Evangile de l'enfance de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ selon Saint Pierre (1900) and Albert Samain's Jardin de l'Infante (1908), Schwabe's minute technique and pure conceptions demonstrate the influence of Dürer, Botticelli and the Pre-Raphaelites.
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