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Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Portrait of Madame Mercier


Jean-Baptiste Greuze
Tournus 1725 – Paris 1805


Portrait of Madame Mercier


About 1780


Oil on canvas


63 x 52 cm


Purchase, gift of the National Museums of Canada, inv. 1973.10


Western Art

With its harmonious composition and oval format, this charming portrait on the cusp between innocence and sensuality is typical of Greuze’s work. The muslin dress with pale blue ribbons was in fashion at the same time as the delicately white polonaise gowns favoured by Marie-Antoinette. Surrounded by clouds of brown hair adorned with pearls, the delicately sketched face looks out with a sweet but somewhat melancholy gaze. Greuze was a phenomenon of mid-eighteenth century painting, for he single-handedly invented a new genre known as “moral painting.” Admired by critics such as Diderot, his work was seen as groundbreaking.

Greuze was also a fine portraitist. The model’s husband, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, a leading figure of the Parisian literary scene, is a novelist and essayist working. He produced a powerful oeuvre centred on the historical drama. Greuze and Mercier shared the same inquiring turn of mind and a talent for depicting the lives of the middle and working classes. “Greuze and I, we are two great painters, at least Greuze acknowledged me as such. We have known each other for a long time; he put the drama in painting, and I put the painting in drama.” This picture was probably commissioned as a pendant to a portrait of Mercier whose present whereabouts are unknown.

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