Eugene Savage was born in Covington, Indiana, in 1883. He was brought up in the world of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach by his mother, who conducted the symphony orchestra in Covington. In 1912, Savage won the coveted Prix de Rome and spent three years in Italy at the American Academy, immersing himself in the study of Renaissance artists and mural paintings. He returned to America to paint Renaissance-inspired murals during the Roaring Twenties. A member of the Yale University faculty, Savage was considered the most successful of the Rome-trained academicians, and he received numerous public commissions. His interest centered chiefly on the field of mural painting, where his influence was greatest.
Bacchanal typifies the decorative quality of Savage’s style and his superb craftsmanship. Like most of his compositions, it is an allegory. In the foreground, Autumn, wearing a wreath of leaves, pulls Summer from the scene. Winter, represented by an old man holding a shaft, casually prepares to shoot Autumn, as Spring pulls on his beard in her attempt to supersede Winter. With the circular pattern of action, the unusual texture created by the gold leaf, and the stylized treatment of the figures, this painting is a reminder of the persistence of the decorative and academic spirit in America.