Illness interrupted the engineering studies of French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and while recovering in Italy he decided that he would pursue a career as a painter instead.
He returned to Paris in 1844 and entered the studio of Delacroix, and then that of Couture. By 1852 he had a studio of his own, but did not see any real financial or critical success (even being rejected by the Paris Salon in 1861) until the French government purchased one of his works. From that point onward his career had a remarkable turnaround.
He was one of the first French artists who were known to paint directly from a live model in his studio, and his model Suzann Valadon went on to became a painter of some regard during the period.
Though an easel painter, he also received many mural commissions, which are in several public buildings in France as well as in the United States, including the City Hall of Paris and the Boston Public Library.
In 1890 he was the president and co-founder of the National Society of Fine Arts in Paris. The group held an annual juried Salon, and it was soon the desired venue of most contemporary artists. Through his works and associations Puvis de Chavannes is considered one of the most influential artists of his time. Since 1926 the Society has awarded the Puvis de Chavannes prize, which is a retrospective exhibition of the selected artist's works.
His paintings are found in the collections of museum around the world and include the Fitzwilliam Museum in the United Kingdom, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hermitage in Russia and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.