Pierre Paul Puget was born in Marseille. At the age of fourteen he carved the ornaments of the galleys built in the shipyards 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 da Cortona, who took him into his studio and employed him on the ceilings of the Palazzo Barberini and on those of Palazzo Pitti at Florence.
After four years in Italy, in 1643 he returned to Nice, where he painted portraits and carved the colossal figureheads of men-of-war. After a second journey to Italy in 1646 he painted a great number of pictures for Aix-en-Provence, Toulon, Cuers and La Coitat, and sculpted a large marble group of the Virgin and Child for the church of Lorgues. His caryatids for the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville of Toulon were executed between 1655 and 1657. He also created a monumental wooden retable for Toulon Cathedral. Nicolas Fouguet employed Puget to sculpt a Hercules for his château, Vaux-le-Vicomte. After the fall of Fouquet in 1660, Puget moved to Genoa. Here he crafted for François Sublet de Noyers his Hercule Gaulois (Musée du Louvre), the statues of St Sebastian and of Bishop Alejandro Paoli in the church of Santa Maria di Carignano (c. 1664), and many other works. The Doria family gave him a church to build. The Genoese senate proposed that he should paint their council chamber. The artist's 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.
But Jean-Baptiste Colbert made 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 François de Vendôme, Duc de Beaufort, was destroyed by fire in the course of construction and was rebuilt by another architect. Disheartened, Puget took leave of Toulon, and in 1685 went back to Marseille, where he continued the long series of works of sculpture on which he had been employed by Colbert. His statue of Milo of Croton (Louvre) had been completed in 1682, Perseus and Andromeda (Louvre) in 1684; 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 Marseille, 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 hall of his native city.
In 1882, Adolphe-André Porée discovered a lost statue by Puget on a castle grounds at Biéville-Beuville. This statue of Hercules slaying the Hydra of Lerna was originally in the castle of Vaudreuil, and is now at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.
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.
Pierre Puget was and still is quite famous in Marseille. The Mont Puget, one of the mountain ranges bordering Marseille, is named after him.
Théophile Gautier called him the greatest sculptor of his time, and he is evoked in Charles Baudelaire's poem Les Phares (The Beacons) alongside Rubens, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Watteau, Goya and Delacroix as 'Puget, melancholy emperor of convicts'.
- For Puget's architecture, see Jean-Jacques Gloton , "Pierre Puget architecte romain", in Puget et son temps Aie-ex-Provence, 1972.
- G. Walton, "Les Dessins d'architecture de Puget pour la reconstruction de l'arsenal de Toulon", Information d'histoire de l'Art, 10 (1965), pp.162 ff
- French Regional & American Museum Exchange (FRAME) (2010-06-19). "Hercule terrassant l'hydre de Lerne, 1659-1660". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26..
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Puget, Pierre". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 637.
- 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).
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pierre Puget". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
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- Pierre Puget in American public collections, on the French Sculpture Census website