The Jean-Baptiste Greuze Biography

Greuze Biography

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Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725 - 1805)

Born on 21 August 1725 in Tournus (Saône-et-Loire), he studied under C. Grandon at Lyon before moving c. 1750 to Paris. His studies at the Académie were desultory, but he was agréé in 1755 with La lecture de la Bible (Paris, private collection) which attracted attention in the Salon that year. In 1557 his patron Louis Gougenot, abbé de Chezal-Benôit, took him to Italy where Marigny also favoured him with two commissions from Mme. de Pompadour and where he painted La paresseuse Italienne (Hartford) and Les oeuf cassés (New York, Metropolitan Musuem of Art), both of which were praised at the 1757 Salon.

In 1759 he married Anne-Gabrielle Babuti whose extravagance and infidelity were to cause him much hardship. His moral genre scenes, combining a topical sensibility with the domesticity of seventeenth-century Dutch masters, attracted Diderot's praise at successive Salons: 'c'est la peinture morale . . le pinceau n'a-t-il pas été assez et trop longtemps consacré à la débauche et au vice? Ne devons-nous pas être satisfait de le voir concourir enfin avec la poésie dramatique à nous toucher, à nous instruire, à nous corriger et à nous inviter à la vertu?'

By 1769 he had also shown some distinguished portraits and established a Russian clientele, but in that year his exhibited morceau de réception (eight years overdue), the ambitious poussiniste history The Emperor Severus reprimanding his son Caracalla (Louvre), was much criticised and he was reçu only as a peintre de genre. He consequently withdrew from the Salon for thirty years, exhibiting privately in his Louvre studio. In the 1770s he achieved a marked commercial success with engravings of his subject pictures, and by the end of the decade he was turning increasingly to painting languid têtes d'expression (of which the 4th Marquess of Hertford became an uncritical admirer). In 1792 he painted Napoleon as an artillery Captain (whole-length at Versailles), and in 1793 he joined the Commune des Arts, directed by Restout and David. He finally divorced his wife the same year. He exhibited again at the Salon in 1800, 1801 and 1804 and died in Paris on 21 March 1805.

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