Jean-Baptiste GREUZE

Tournus 1725 - Paris 1805


Following a period of study in Lyon, Jean-Baptiste Greuze arrived in Paris sometime in the early 1750s and entered the studio of Charles-Joseph Natoire. Very little is known of the artist’s early Parisian period. He was admitted into the Académie Royale as an associate member in 1755, in the category of peintre de genre particulier, and the same year exhibited at the Salon with some success. (He did not, however, supply a morceau de recéption to the Académie, in order to gain full membership as an Academician, until 1769.) Greuze’s paintings of moralizing genre subjects, exhibited at the annual Salons, earned him the praise of the influential critic Denis Diderot. He was also a fine portraitist, exhibiting a number of portraits at the Salon throughout the 1760s to considerable acclaim. While Greuze enjoyed the patronage of such prominent collectors as Jean de Jullienne, Ange Laurent de La Live de Jully, the Duc de Choiseul, the Marquise de Pompadour and the Empress Catherine II of Russia, his difficult temperament often alienated other clients. Even the artist’s great champion Diderot, writing to the sculptor Falconet in 1767, described Greuze as ‘an excellent artist, but a thoroughly unruly person. One must take his drawings and his pictures, and leave the man at that.’ In 1769, angered by the rejection of his reception piece, a history painting, by the Académie, who instead admitted him only as a genre painter, Greuze refused to exhibit at the Salons until 1800, preferring to show his paintings in his studio. His reputation suffered after the Revolution, with the rise of Neoclassicism, and he died in poverty at the age of eighty, in his studio at the Louvre. A gifted, versatile and prolific draughtsman, Greuze was praised as such by Diderot, who noted, in a review of the Salon of 1763, that ‘this man draws like an angel.’ He was equally adept in chalks, pastel and ink, and often exhibited finished drawings alongside his paintings at the Salons. The 18th century collector, dealer and connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette commented that Greuze’s drawings were much in demand, and that collectors habitually paid high prices for them.