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Jean-Baptiste Greuze

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Engraving of Jean-Baptiste Greuze in front of Hôtel de Dieu- Greuze Museum, France.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze was a French painter, born in Tournus (Saône-et-Loire). He studied art in Lyon and in Paris, where he became a leading genre painter. 

The moralistic subject of the first painting he exhibited, The Father Reading the Bible to His Children (1755, Louvre, Paris), was in marked contrast to the playful, decorative subjects of the then-dominant rococo style. The work was approved by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which Greuze joined as an associate in 1769. 

  • The artist in front of Hôtel Dieu - Greuze Museum. Illustration to a a First Day Sheet, engraved by the French engraver Pierre Albuisson, in connection with the issuance of the French stamp September 2005. The engraving is a personal present to the webmaster from the engraver. 

In 1755 he went to Italy, visiting first Naples then Rome. Little interested in antique art or the Italian ruins, he continued his genre painting. Greuze is today considered more important for his honest, unpretentious portraits, both of political figures, such as Robespierre and Napoleon, and of children. The below stamps, all depicting children paintings by Greuze, are semi-postals issued for the benefit of French Red Cross. The exact year(s) of creation is unknown, but all are assumed to have been painted in the period 1755-1765. The two 1971-stamps were also issued by Réunion. 

France 1954. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Girl with Dove. France 1971. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Young Girl with a Dog. France 1971. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Girl with Dead Bird.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Chalk drawing of a young girl.

Greuze's forceful, free chalk drawings are also much admired. He was a loyal observer of local dresses, movement and expression, and he created for each of his paintings a dramatic expression, nourished by the forced attitude of the model's natural tension and expression in the given situation.  

A splendid example of these chalk drawings is seen on this excellent portrait of a young girl holding her hand behind her ear, as if she is listening to something she does not hear very well.

These characteristics are well expressed in this  drawing, used to illustrate the Philatelic Document issued by the French Post Office in connection with the issuance of the French stamp September 2005. 

The engraving is signed by Pierre Albuisson, and is a personal present from him to the webmaster. Click here to see the full philatelic document issued by the French Post Office. The link will open in a new window. 

On 24th September 2005 France has issued this painting by Greuze "Le Guitariste" ["The Guitar Player"]. The stamp is shown below left, with the First Day Cancel 24-09-2995 in Tournus, the artist's birth place. On the right is shown a similar Polish stamp issued in 1967. What a difference between two printing techniques with 38 years interval! 

France 2005. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The Gutar Player. France 2005. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The Guitar Player. Blue Print.

He went on to paint a great number of artificial, moralistic genre works, including The Village Bride (1761, Louvre) and The Wool Winder (1759, Frick Collection, New York City). Below are three traditional paintings by Greuze, depicting honest and unpretentious portraits of children and everyday characters.  

Fujeira 1970. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Blond Girl. USSR 1974. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The Pampered Child. Poland 1967. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The Guitar Player.

In 1769, Greuze wanted to join the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, as a painter of historical paintings, and presents his sumptuous painting "Imperial Reproaching of Caracalla for wanting to assassinate his father, the Emperor", but which was rejected by the institutional members. Nonetheless the painter is accepted at the Academy, but as a genre painter. 

State of Oman 1972. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Mademoiselle Sophie Arnauld. State of Oman 1972. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The Broken Mirror.

Driven by his proper artistic love, from this moment on Greuze refuses to exhibit at the Salon, and consequently opens his atelier to the public. 

Being an excellent portraitist he receives plenty of commissions, and he knows well how to expose his great pictorial experience combined with the human authenticity of his models. His paintings left a remarkable witness of the bourgeois society of the 18th century. 

  • State of Oman 1972. Mademoiselle Sophie Arnauld, c. 1786. 

  • State of Oman 1972. The Broken Mirror, c. 1763. 

Both paintings belong to the Wallace Collection, Great Britain. 

But little by little, the public taste develops and changes, particularly influenced by the return of a certain classicism, and Greuze slowly sees himself pushed into the dark and dies in misery, completely forgotten by the public that had supported him from the very beginning of his career. 

The engraving on the left is done by the French engraver Pierre Albuisson as an illustration to the official invitations for the First Day Celebrations of the issuance of the French Greuze-stamp 2005. The illustration shows the Greuze-statue in his hometown Tournus. 

Sources and links:

Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Statue of the artist in his hometown Tournus, engraved by the French engraver Pierre Albuisson.

Other Rococo Artists on this site: 

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