Jean Baptiste Greuze
Jeune fille au ruban bleu dans les cheveux
Oil on canvas: 16.1(h) x 13.7(w) in / 41(h) x 34.9(w) cm
This artwork is for sale.
Please contact us on: +44 (0)20 7493 3939.
Tournus 1725 – 1805 Paris
Ref: CA 174
Jeune fille au ruban bleu dans les cheveux
Oil on canvas: 16 1/8 x 13 ¾ in / 41 x 34.9 cm
Frame size: 21 ½ x 19 in / 54.6 x 48.3 cm
In an Empire style carved and gilded frame
Painted in the 1780s
Drouot Montaigne, Me Ader-Picard-Tajan, Paris, 22nd November 1987, lot 12
Private collection, France
Jean-Baptiste Greuze sprang to fame with sentimental, moralizing paintings such as L’Accordée de village (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which caused a sensation at the Salon of 1761. Building on Charles Le Brun’s (1619-1690) exploration of human expression in Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner less passions (1698), Greuze captured a range of responses to this village betrothal by subtle delineation of the heads of his figures, evoking shy innocence in the fiancée, tearfulness in her mother and robust indifference in the sibling feeding the chickens. He was responding to an era of sensibility, an eighteenth century precursor of the modern mantra ‘Be Kind’, which valued feeling over rationality, charity to those lower on the social scale and the bourgeois virtues of domestic bliss.
Greuze was admired for his ability to capture expression in the single ‘heads’ that formed a considerable part of his output in the latter half of his career. The history painter Jean-Joseph Taillasson commented in his 1805 obituary of Greuze: ‘What earned him the most important part of his glory, what won him the highest place in the opinion of artists and refined connoisseurs, were the beautiful heads spread throughout all the cabinets of Europe and which are there admired as masterpieces’. Most sought-after were Greuze’s bust-length paintings of young women with wistful, ambiguous expressions, such as The dreamer (private collection). The viewer is invited to guess the thoughts beyond the languorous eyes.
Jeune fille au ruban bleu dans les cheveux, painted in the 1780s, is remarkable for its directness and vitality. Here is no simpering maiden, but a cheerful Parisian child, full of the exuberance which must have eddied round the Greuze household when his three beloved daughters were young. Her creamy skin and rosy cheeks are painted with the fluidity and softness which Greuze had refined by this period. Her lovely chestnut hair waves in baroque curves, echoed by the exquisitely painted, translucent black scarf at her throat. Luminous grey eyes cast a tender glance towards the viewer. Greuze eschews his characteristic subdued or pearlescent tones in favour of stronger colours. The yellow dress points up the brightness of the child’s hair and contrasts with the black scarf and blue sleeve. An ebullient blue background gives a sense of breezy outdoors. This painting is both a subtle, complex portrait of a particular child and a celebration of youth itself.
Tournus 1725 – 1805 Paris
Jean-Baptiste Greuze was born at Tournus between Dijon and Lyon on 21st August 1725, the sixth of nine children of a roofer, Jean-Louis Greuze (1697-1769), and his wife Claudine Roch. He was later to describe his father as an architect and property developer. Likewise, he was baptised Jean Greuze, but adopted the more genteel-sounding Jean-Baptiste in the mid-1750s.
Precociously talented (he is said to have fooled his father at the age of eight that a drawing he had made was a print), Greuze may have had some artistic training in his home town. In the late 1740s he went to Lyon to study with the portrait painter Charles Grandon (c.1691-1762). He probably travelled with Grandon to Paris around 1750, when the latter went to join his son-in-law, the composer André Grétry. Greuze studied at the Académie Royale with Charles-Joseph Natoire and painted small pictures to make a living: one of these may be The triumph of Galatea (Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence), which is in the style of François Boucher. Greuze was supported at the Académie by its Director Louis de Silvestre and the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. He was made an associate member (agréé) on 28th June 1755 after presenting some of his pictures, including the Family Bible reading (Hottinguer Collection, Paris) and painting a brilliant portrait of Silvestre in public. Greuze exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1755, where his Family Bible reading was bought by La Live de Jully.
In September 1755 Greuze set off for Italy with the historian and collector Louis Gougenot, Abbé de Chezal-Benôit. Bankrolled by Gougenot, the pair visited Turin, Genoa, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Florence and Naples before arriving in Rome in January 1756, where Greuze decided to stay. The Marquis de Marigny, Louis XV’s Surintendant des Bâtiments, commissioned two paintings for his sister Madame de Pompadour and gave orders that Greuze should be lodged in the Palazzo Mancini, home of the Académie de France in Rome. Typically, Greuze dawdled over these prestigious commissions, not finishing Simplicity (1759; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX) and A young shepherd holding a flower (1761; Petit Palais, Paris) until long after his return to Paris. Instead he flung his energies into ‘Four Pictures in Italian Costume’ which he rushed back to exhibit at the Salon of 1757: Broken eggs (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Neapolitan gesture (Art Museum, Worcester, MA); Indolence (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hertford, CT) and The fowler (National Museum, Warsaw). These paintings were influenced by the moralising themes and detailed execution of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish masters such as Dou and Teniers. While in Rome Greuze also produced portraits, including that of the Comte de Stainville (later Duc de Choiseul), French Ambassador to the Holy See, and indulged in a dalliance with a member of the noble Pignatelli family. Fragonard, who was in Rome at the time, described Greuze in these years as ‘an amorous cherub’.
Greuze exhibited more than a dozen works at the Salon of 1757. He was first mentioned by Denis Diderot in his Salon of 1759, hailed as an exponent of a new seriousness and morality in painting. The friendship with Diderot endured ten years; more lasting was Greuze’s friendship with the German engraver Jean-Georges Wille, who makes many references to Greuze in his Journal and who became the subject of one of his finest portraits (1763; Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris). Also in that year, 1759, Greuze married Anne-Gabrielle Babuti (1732-after 1812), the beautiful, wealthy daughter of a Parisian bookseller. They had three daughters, Marie-Anne-Claudine, who died young; Anne-Geneviève (1762-1842), who became Greuze’s pupil, and Louise-Gabrielle. Mme Greuze proved grasping and flagrantly unfaithful; Greuze divorced her, at huge financial cost, in 1792.
Greuze gained huge success in 1761 with the sentimental and morally uplifting Marriage contract (L’Accordée de village) (Louvre, Paris), commissioned by Marigny. In 1767 he was pressured to present the reception piece due to the Académie twelve years’ previously, when he became an associate. Greuze spent two years reinventing himself as a history painter with the aim of enhancing his status with the Académie. His reception piece, Septimius Severus reproaching Caracalla, 1769 (Louvre), the superb fruit of his study of classical sculpture and the work of Poussin, was poorly received. He was elected a full member of the Académie, but to his fury was still classed as a genre painter. Greuze shunned the Académie Salons, exhibited elsewhere, and made a fortune through sales of prints after his work. Royalty and noblemen flocked to his studio in the Louvre, including Gustave III of Sweden in 1771 and Joseph II of Austria in 1777.
Greuze’s late work mixed realistic observation with the grand manner of history painting. In The father’s curse and The punished son, 1777 (Louvre), operatic emotion conjoins with extraordinary beauty of painterly execution. In 1793, as the Revolution began, Greuze joined the Commune Générale des Arts, led by Jacques-Louis David. With the dissolution of the Académie Royale and its snobberies, he returned to exhibit at the Salons of 1800, 1801 and 1804. Greuze died in his studio in the Louvre on 21st March 1805, attended by his faithful daughter Anne-Geneviève, whom he fondly called his Antigone.
 See Yuriko Jackall, Jean-Baptiste Greuze et ses têtes d’expression: La fortune d’un genre, Condé-en-Normandie 2022, chapter II, ‘Les identités académiques de Greuze’, pp.91-143.
 ‘Notice sur Creuze [sic]’, Journal des débats et loix [sic] du pouvoir législatif et des actes du gouvernement, 6 germinal an 13 [27th March 1805]: ‘Mais ce qui lui a mérité la plus belle partie de sa gloire: ce qui lui assigne une très haute place dans l’opinion des artistes et des connoisseurs délicats, ce sont les belles têtes répandues dans tous les cabinets de l’Europe, et qui sont admirées comme des chefs-d’oeuvre’. Quoted in Yuriko Jackall, ‘Off with Greuze’s heads: a case of identity theft’, Journal 18, issue 8, Self/Portrait, autumn 2019.
 Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum, Jean-Baptiste Greuze 1725-1805, 1977, exh. cat. by Edgar Munhall, pp.154-5, no.73, illus.