The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

March 4, 2016

March 4, 1805

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, (August 21, 1725, to March 21, 1805), was a "French genre and portrait painter who initiated a mid-18th-century vogue for sentimental and moralizing anecdotes in paintings." The article also says:

Greuze studied .... at the Royal Academy in Paris. He first exhibited at the Salon of 1755 and won an immediate success with his moralizing genre painting of Father Reading the Bible to His Children (1755). Although Greuze’s attention at this time was fixed on a less-pretentious type of genre painting in which the influence of 17th-century Dutch masters is apparent, the favourable attention he received turned his head and established the lines of his future career.

In 1755 Greuze left for Italy but remained impervious to the influence of Italian painting. In 1759 he became acquainted with Denis Diderot, who encouraged his inclination toward melodramatic genre, and throughout the 1760s Greuze reached new heights of popular acclaim with such works as The Village Betrothal (1761) and The Father’s Curse and The Prodigal Son (both c. 1765).

Greuze submitted to the Salon in 1769 a large, rather dreary historical painting, Septimius Severus Reproaching Caracalla, which he hoped would gain him admission to the academy as a history painter. But the academy would admit him to membership only as a genre painter, and so the resentful artist exhibited his works to the public only in his own studio for the next 30 years. In addition to moralizing genre, he painted young girls in poses of feigned innocence and calculated disarray...

This example of his work, The Wool Winder, Circa 1759  (held in the Frick Collection) gives sentimentality and moralizing, a good reputation.

The Getty takes a more objective view of Greuze:

While retaining the clear, bright colors and lighter attitude of eighteenth-century painting, Greuze introduced a Dutch-influenced realism into French genre painting and portraiture. Through vivid facial expressions and dramatic gestures, Greuze's moralizing paintings exemplified the new idea that painting should relate to life. They captured the details of settings and costumes, "spoke to the heart," educated viewers, and aimed to make them "virtuous."

In 1769 Académie members refused Greuze membership as a history painter, accepting him only in the lower category of genre, perhaps partly from ill will. Humiliated, he withdrew from public exhibitions completely. During the 1770s Greuze enjoyed a widespread reputation and engravings after his paintings were widely distributed, but his wife embezzled most of the proceeds. By the 1780s, Neoclassicism curtailed his popularity and his quality declined. After enduring poverty and neglect, he died unnoticed, having outlived his time and his reputation.

The National Gallery of Art tells a more detailed story of the last years of this artist

In 1759, at the brink of his blossoming career, Greuze married Anne Marie Babuty, the daughter of a bookseller. Madame Greuze would prove to be a vindictive and treacherous partner. Her affairs with Greuze's sitters and students caused him both humiliation and loss of income. Their stormy marriage was legally dissolved in 1793, with Madame Greuze receiving a substantial settlement....

Financial mismanagement, the fall of the ancien régime, and a costly divorce left him nearly destitute. To survive, he turned to the kind of saccharine têtes de jeunes filles that have ever since tarnished his posthumous critical fortune. Tragically, on his death in 1805 at the age of eighty, the painter who had commanded some of the highest prices in France and abroad during the 1760s and 1770s was nearly penniless.

We can see Wikipedia carelessness in their dating for the death of Greuze as March 04, 1805.  Either that or we are seeing a case of vandalism, a problem within Wikipedia which is underestimated. I must say I was surprised at the quality of the Britannica article also; there was a francophobic quality to the details.  At least Mr. Wales has warned people to always quote another source, along with Wikipedia, when using his site as a citation.

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