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Paul Thévenaz



A self-portrait painted in 1921, the year of his tragic death, captures Paul Thévanaz’s zest for living. While studying in Paris, Thévanaz came under the influence of Stravinsky and Cocteau, and his paintings and murals reflect a fluidity of line and delight in color which leap out even from faded reproductions. It was the Swiss artist’s irrepressible vitality which first attracted poet . The two men maintained a long-distance relationship while Bynner taught poetry at Berkeley and Thévanaz pursued his art career in New York. It was probably Thévanaz who Bynner is describing in a poem titled “The Canticle of Bacchus” which (in Bynner’s words) was first performed “under the star-tipped nave of a grove of redwoods” on the Berkeley campus:

I am Bacchus, I am he
Whom young men choose, old wives chastise
And solemn men abhor,
Because the truth is in my eyes,
Because my mother bore
A light and easy soothsayer,
Natural and wild,
Fierce and happy as the sun,
When Bacchus was her child.
I stole the grapes from her other hand,
She pretended not to look,
And the heat of my fingers turned them to wine
And that was the milk I took,
Till I grew and flourished and became
The most beloved boy
Who ever danced among the leaves
Of elemental joy.
Bynner was devastated when Thévanaz suddenly died of a ruptured appendix in 1921. He helped compile and edit a memorial volume of the artist’s work, which was privately printed the following year.

Portrait of a Negro, 1916

Sketch for a mural, 1917

Read More About It

  • Paul Thévenaz. Paul Thévenaz: a Record of His Life and Art, Together with an Essay on Style, by the Artist, and Including 107 Reproductions of his Drawings, Paintings & Decorative Work ([New York] : Privately Printed, 1922)
  • James Kraft. Who Is Witter Bynner?: a Biography (Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, 1995)

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