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Title: Greuze
Author: Macklin, Alys Eyre
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Masterpieces in Colour
Edited by--T. Leman Hare

GREUZE

1725-1805

      *      *      *      *      *      *

“MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR” SERIES

        ARTIST.                          AUTHOR.
    BELLINI.                         GEORGE HAY.
    BOTTICELLI.                      HENRY B. BINNS.
    BOUCHER.                         C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    BURNE-JONES.                     A. LYS BALDRY.
    CARLO DOLCI.                     GEORGE HAY.
    CHARDIN.                         PAUL G. KONODY.
    CONSTABLE.                       C. LEWIS HIND.
    COROT.                           SIDNEY ALLNUTT.
    DA VINCI.                        M. W. BROCKWELL.
    DELACROIX.                       PAUL G. KONODY.
    DÜRER.                           H. E. A. FURST.
    FRA ANGELICO.                    JAMES MASON.
    FRA FILIPPO LIPPI.               PAUL G. KONODY.
    FRAGONARD.                       C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    FRANZ HALS.                      EDGCUMBE STALEY.
    GAINSBOROUGH.                    MAX ROTHSCHILD.
    GREUZE.                          ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
    HOGARTH.                         C. LEWIS HIND.
    HOLBEIN.                         S. L. BENSUSAN.
    HOLMAN HUNT.                     MARY E. COLERIDGE.
    INGRES.                          A. J. FINBERG.
    LAWRENCE.                        S. L. BENSUSAN.
    LE BRUN, VIGÉE.                  C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    LEIGHTON. A.                     LYS BALDRY.
    LUINI.                           JAMES MASON.
    MANTEGNA.                        MRS. ARTHUR BELL.
    MEMLINC.                         W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
    MILLAIS.                         A. LYS BALDRY.
    MILLET.                          PERCY M. TURNER.
    MURILLO.                         S. L. BENSUSAN.
    PERUGINO.                        SELWYN BRINTON.
    RAEBURN.                         JAMES L. CAW.
    RAPHAEL.                         PAUL G. KONODY.
    REMBRANDT.                       JOSEF ISRAELS.
    REYNOLDS.                        S. L. BENSUSAN.
    ROMNEY.                          C. LEWIS HIND.
    ROSSETTI.                        LUCIEN PISSARRO.
    RUBENS.                          S. L. BENSUSAN.
    SARGENT.                         T. MARTIN WOOD.
    TINTORETTO.                      S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TITIAN.                          S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TURNER.                          C. LEWIS HIND.
    VAN DYCK.                        PERCY M. TURNER.
    VAN EYCK.                        J. CYRIL M. WEALE.
    VELAZQUEZ.                       S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WATTEAU.                         C. LEWIS HIND.
    WATTS.                           W. LOFTUS HARE.
    WHISTLER.                        T. MARTIN WOOD.
             _Others in Preparation._

      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: PLATE I.--L’ACCORDÉE DU VILLAGE. (Frontispiece)

This picture, at first entitled “A Father handing over the
Marriage-portion of his Daughter,” then “The Village Bride,” is
the best of Greuze’s subject pictures. The scene is more or less
naturally arranged, and informed with the tender homely sentiment
inspired by the subject; and the bride, with her fresh young face
and modest attitude, is a delicious figure. It was exhibited in the
Salon of 1761, and now hangs in the Louvre.]


GREUZE

by

ALYS EYRE MACKLIN

Illustrated with Eight Reproductions in Colour



[Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]

London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.



CONTENTS

          Chap.                                                 Page

       I. Early Days and First Success                            11

      II. The Times in which Greuze Lived                         20

     III. Greuze’s Moral Pictures                                 27

      IV. The Pictures by which we know Greuze                    35

       V. The Vanity of Greuze                                    44

      VI. “The Broken Pitcher” and other well-known Pictures      52

     VII. Ruin and Death                                          62

    VIII. The Art of Greuze                                       71



    LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    Plate

       I. L’Accordée du Village          Frontispiece
             In the Louvre

                                                 Page

      II. L’Innocence tenant deux Pigeons          14
             In the Wallace Collection

     III. La Malédiction paternelle                24
             In the Louvre

      IV. Portrait d’Homme                         34
             In the Louvre

       V. L’Oiseau Mort                            40
             In the Louvre

      VI. Les Deux Sœurs                        50
             In the Louvre

     VII. La Cruche Cassée                         60
             In the Louvre

    VIII. La Laitière                              70
             In the Louvre



CHAPTER I

EARLY DAYS AND FIRST SUCCESS


Few names suggest so much beauty as that of Greuze.

“Greuze”--“a Greuze”--you have only to hear the word and there rises
before your mental vision a radiant procession of maidens each
lovelier than the last, with the blue of a spring sky in their
shining eyes, rosy blood flushing delicate cheeks, soft silken hair
escaping in gold-touched curls at temples where the blue veins show,
lips like dewy carnations, rounded necks and curving bosoms that
suggest all the sweets of June. A veritable “garden of girls” in the
first fresh bloom of budding womanhood; and they come to you not so
much as painted pictures as delicate visions breathed on canvas from
which they might at any moment tremble into pulsing life.

Yet the Greuze to whom we owe this exquisite series was first known as
the painter of pictures of a very different kind. Before speaking of
these let us begin at the beginning, by seeing when and under what
conditions the child who was to become the poet-painter of a certain
type of womanhood first saw the world he was destined to enrich.

Born at Tournus, a little town near Macon in France, on August 21,
1725, the early life of Jean Baptiste Greuze curiously resembles in
its broad lines those of many other well-known artists. His parents
were humble people who lived in the tiny house at Tournus, now
decorated with a commemorative plaque; the father an overman slater;
and the godparents, who play such an important part in the life of the
French child, respectively a slater and a baker. The father seems to
have been ambitious, for he resolved to take his son into an evidently
expanding business, not as a workman, but as architect. At the usual
early age, however, the child’s vocation declared itself. It was in
vain the father, alarmed by symptoms that threatened to disarrange his
plans, took materials from him and then whipped him for making
pictures all over the walls--anywhere, everywhere. The boy cared for
nothing but drawing of a kind that did not fall in with the cherished
architectural idea, and after many struggles he won the day by giving
his father for a birthday present a pen-and-ink drawing of the head of
St. James, well enough done to be at first mistaken for an engraving.
This had been copied at nights when he was supposed to be asleep, and
touched and convinced, the father finally gave in and sent him off to
Lyons to learn the business in the studio of the painter Grandon.

    [Illustration: PLATE II.--L’INNOCENCE TENANT DEUX PIGEONS

    “L’Innocence tenant deux Pigeons,” or “Innocence holding two
    Pigeons,” is a typical example of the eyes Greuze never tired of
    painting, large innocent orbs with a sparkle that suggests the
    morning sun on flowers wet with dew. The moist half-open lips
    you also find in most of his girl-heads. The lovely colour
    scheme is particularly happy even for Greuze. The original is in
    the Wallace Collection, London.]

The term “learn the business” is used advisedly. Grandon’s studio was
more a manufactory of pictures than anything else, and was just as bad
a school as a young artist could well have. Pictures were copied,
recopied, and adapted, turned out for all the world as Jean Baptiste’s
godmother turned the loaves out of her oven; and while the boy learnt
the use of colours, and some drawing, he also learnt that facility
which is the deadly enemy of art, artifice rather than invention, to
copy rather than to create--weaknesses which beset him ever
afterwards.

It was natural that, when manhood was arrived at, Greuze should yield
to the inevitable law that draws exceptional talent to great centres.
When he was about twenty he left Lyons, and with very little capital
but his abilities, his blonde beauty, and a large stock of
self-satisfaction, he set out gaily to make his fortune in Paris.

The story of the first ten years there is also the conventional one of
early artist days, the old tale of stress and struggle, of bitter
disappointments alternating with brilliant hopes and small
achievements. Young Greuze was too personal and faulty in his work to
please the Academy, not strong enough yet to convince any advanced
movement there might be, and he divided ten trying years between a
little study at the Academy and a great deal of painting the
pot-boilers he had learnt to make at Lyons. At last his work attracted
the attention and gained for him the friendship of two well-known
artists, Sylvestre, and Pigalle, the King’s sculptor, and they were
instrumental in his being able to exhibit in the Academy of 1755, when
he was thirty years old, the picture which brought him his first
success, “Un Père qui lit la Bible à ses Enfants.”

This picture shows the living room of a raftered cottage, with the old
father sitting at a table round which are gathered his six sons and
daughters. One of his large, horny hands is on the open Bible before
him, the other holds the spectacles he has taken off as he stops to
explain the passage he has been reading. The children listen
respectfully, some attentively, the others with an air of being
absorbed in their own reflections, while the mother, sitting near,
stops her spinning to tell the baby on the floor not to tease the dog.

It is not well painted. Except that it shows a picturesque interior
and expresses the sentiment of piety in the home it is intended to
convey, it has but little merit, is, indeed, so mediocre that you
wonder why, far from bringing fame to the young man, it should have
been noticed at all.

To understand its success, and the still greater success of similar
pictures which followed, you must glance at the epoch of its
production.



CHAPTER II

THE TIMES IN WHICH GREUZE LIVED


It was that period of the eighteenth century before the Revolution
when society was at its worst, the paints and powders that covered its
face, the scents which over-perfumed its body, its manners artificial
as the antics of marionettes, being emblematic of its state of mind.
Society was, in short, so corrupt it could not become any more so, and
at length, weary of the search for a new sensation, there was nothing
for it but a sudden rebound to some sort of morality.

Opportunist philosophers appeared quickly on the scene, and began to
preach the pleasant doctrine that man was born very good, full of
honesty and good feeling, running over with generosity and all the
virtues, and if he did not keep so, it was because the miserable
conventions of society had drawn him from the original perfection of
his state. To find virtue you must look among those of humble estate,
the poor who thought of nothing but their work and the bringing up of
their large families. Away, then, from social life and its
corruptions, return to the simple ways of the lowly and needy--thus
and thus only could France be regenerated!

The aristocratic victims of their caste drank all this in eagerly, and
their exaggerated efforts to follow the new cult of simplicity made
the bitter-tongued Voltaire describe them as “mad with the desire to
walk on their hands and feet, so as to imitate as nearly as possible
their virtuous ancestors of the woods.”

Diderot, whose sudden burning enthusiasms and throbbing eloquence
would have carried away his hearers in spite of themselves if they
had not been only too eager to listen, was the great apostle of the
new doctrine, and, always in extremes, he boldly dragged his moral
theories into even the realm of art.

“To render virtue charming and vice odious ought to be the object of
every honest man who wields a pen, a paint-brush, or the sculptor’s
chisel,” he declared.

The vivid intelligence of Greuze seized the position, and sure of at
least attracting attention if nothing else, he set to work to paint
some scene which would fall in with the prevalent “debauch of morals,”
as some one called it. Thus, “Le Père qui lit la Bible à ses Enfants”
appeared at that psychological moment which does so much to ensure
success. Further, it came as a refreshing change to a public weary of
the pleasant insipidities of Boucher, of a long-continued series of
pale pastorals showing the doubtful pleasures of light love. It was,
moreover, a novelty, for no one had painted such subjects before in
France.

    [Illustration: PLATE III.--LA MALÉDICTION PATERNELLE

    “La Malédiction paternelle,” or “The Father’s Curse,” is in the
    Louvre, and is one of the best known of Greuze’s moral pictures.
    It is one of his worst productions. Observe the theatrical
    attitudes and gestures, the too carefully arranged draperies,
    etc., of the actors in this exaggerated scene, which in real
    life would pass in formless disorder and rough confusion.]

And so more than the expected happened. From the day of its exhibition
till the Salon was closed, it was surrounded by admiring crowds, and
every one said, “Who is this wonderful Greuze?” Those there were who
replied that Greuze had not painted the picture himself, was incapable
of such work, for the overweening personal vanity that marred Greuze’s
character had already made for him many enemies; but the happy
preacher-painter proved his position, and but gained additional
interest from the discussions that raged round him.

From this moment Greuze’s position was assured. He was made _agréé_ of
the Academy, which among other privileges gave him the right to
exhibit what he liked there in future. He sold the celebrated picture
for a comparatively large sum to a Monsieur de la Live de Jully. He
made hosts of friends, many of them influential. One of his new
acquaintances offered to provide him with a studio. Another, l’Abbé
Gougenot, invited him to accompany him to Italy to study art, an offer
which was accepted.

Greuze stayed two years in Italy, but except that some of his pictures
have Italian names and show Italian costumes, this visit exercised no
perceptible influence on his work, and in 1757 he returned to steady
work in the Paris which was to be for him the scene of so many
triumphs--and later, of so much despair.



CHAPTER III

GREUZE’S MORAL PICTURES


The well-known “Village Bride,” or “L’Accordée du Village,” exhibited
in 1761, was his second great success.

“A Father handing over the Marriage-portion of his Daughter” was the
first title of this picture, and one which better, if less poetically,
explains the scene. The homely ceremony takes place in the picturesque
living room of a big cottage or small farm, and twelve people take
part in it. Backed up by the village functionary, who has drawn up the
contract, the old father is evidently giving some good advice as he
places the bag of money in the hands of his future son-in-law. The
young man listens respectfully, the shy but proud young bride hanging
on to his arm. The mother has taken one of her daughter’s hands,
while a younger sister leans her head on the bride’s shoulder.
Children play about in various attitudes among a family of fowls who
feed in the foreground. Though it has some of the faults of those
which followed it, this is undoubtedly the best subject-picture
painted by Greuze. The composition is good, it is well drawn, full of
a charming tender sentiment, and the head of the fiancée,
foreshadowing Greuze’s future successes, is delicious, fully deserving
Gautier’s eulogy: “It is impossible to find anything younger, fresher,
more innocent, and more coquettishly virginal, if the two words may be
connected, than this head.”

Preaching the beauty of family life, the sacredness of marriage, and
the virtues and happiness of the humble, “L’Accordée du Village”
raised a furore. Its material success was equally great. It was sold
for 9000 livres, and later, in 1780, it was bought for the Cabinet du
Roi for 16,650 livres.

Very much less successful from the artistic point of view were the two
well-known pictures now in the Louvre, which appeared three or four
years later, “La Malédiction paternelle” and--a sequel--“Le Fils
puni.”

The first shows the vicious and debauched son trying to tear himself
from the grasp of an agonised mother and little brother, to go away
with the colour-sergeant who is waiting near the door. While the
mother pleads, the father, unable to move from the chair in which
illness holds him, storms, and with hands violently outstretched,
pronounces the curse that terrifies the other shuddering members of
the family.

The punishment is shown in the second picture, when the repentant son,
shabby and travel-stained, returns to find his father dead. His stick
fallen from his trembling hands, his knees giving way beneath him, one
hand on his heart, the other pressed convulsively to his forehead, he
stands helpless at the foot of the bed on which the dead man lies.
Beside him stands his mother, pointing tragically to the corpse, with
an air of saying, “Behold your work!” The other members of the family
are too occupied with their own sorrow to notice him, and give way to
their despair in various attitudes.

The artificiality of pose and gesture more than suggested in
“L’Accordée du Village” is here exaggerated into cheap theatricalness.
In “Le Fils puni,” for example, the attitude of the Prodigal, and the
Lady Macbeth pose of the classically-draped mother, are impossible,
and the outstretched arms, the heaven-turned eyes, and open mouths of
the others are almost offensive. This exaggeration defeats its own
object. You feel that these dramatis personæ are only posing,
tableau-vivant fashion, to impress, and they do not do it well enough
to excite anything but criticism in you. The colour is bad, heavy,
and dull. The draperies hang in stiff folds, without suppleness.

These two canvases are arrangements, not pictures; and in spite of
certain gracious qualities which always charm in Greuze, all the
others of the long series that followed can be dismissed with the same
criticism.

Such was not the opinion of Diderot, the painter’s most admiring
critic and friend. He could not find words in which to adequately
praise productions that proved such “great qualities of the heart, and
such good morals.”

“Beautiful! Very beautiful! Sublime! Courage, my friend Greuze;
continue always to paint such subjects, so that when you come to die
there will be nothing you have painted you can recall without
pleasure.”

“Le Paralytique, ou la Piété filiale,” “Le Fruit d’une bonne
Education,” now in the celebrated Hermitage Gallery in Russia, “La
Bénédiction paternelle,” are further examples of this series of the
ten commandments turned badly into paint and canvas, and less
interesting still are subjects of the order of “The Torn Will,”
falling, as they do, into the form of the cheapest melodrama.

    [Illustration: PLATE IV.--PORTRAIT D’HOMME

    A very good example of Greuze as a portraitist. This picture is
    in the Louvre, and is remarkable for its delicate harmonious
    colouring and the living expression in the eyes. The man seems
    to be listening to some one, and on the point of opening his
    mouth to reply.]



CHAPTER IV

THE PICTURES BY WHICH WE KNOW GREUZE


From time to time during these years Greuze had painted children’s
heads that gave evidence of the real character of his talent, and in
1765, the year of “La Malédiction paternelle,” he produced “Le Baiser
envoyé,” now in London in the collection of the Baron Alfred de
Rothschild.

“Le Baiser envoyé,” or “The Kiss,” represents a young woman leaning
forward among the flowers of her window-sill to throw a kiss to her
departing lover. The beautiful form, the charming curved face, all
instinctive with tenderness and longing, the grace of the attitude,
the tapering fingers, the arrangement of the framing draperies,
combine to make this one of the most exquisitely graceful of his
pictures, and one that would alone have proved his surpassing talent
for portraying a certain type of woman. No wonder the charmed
beholders turned to ask each other whether this moral painter was not
at his best when his subjects were not moral!

Of course there is nothing immoral about “The Kiss,” only Greuze had
been so praised for his preacher work, it was only natural he should
be criticised when he produced “La Voluptueuse,” as he first called
this picture. Of the appropriateness of the title there can be no
doubt. The lovely kiss-thrower absolutely respires voluptuousness;
moreover, there is hardly a female figure of Greuze, except those
showing very early childhood, that does not suggest this
characteristic. Even when the eyes of his very young girls are candid
and clear with innocence, the pouting lips of the half-opened mouths
are sensuous, the swelling bosom and rounded throat suggestive, the
attitude provoking. In short, the impression given, if wholly
seductive, is invariably complex, troubled, full of a certain delicate
corruption--see “Innocence” or “Fidelity” in the Wallace Collection in
London. “A moralist with a passion for lovely shoulders, a preacher
who wants to see and show the bosoms of young girls,” is how he has
been described.

Not that any one cared. On the contrary, every one, moralists
included, was libertine in the eighteenth century, and “_deshabillé et
désir_” only stamped a painter as being the mirror of his times. So
Greuze’s name took on still more lustre as his rosebuds grew into
roses whose morning dew sparkled beneath the voluptuousness that began
to bow their lovely heads. “Love-Dreams,” “Bacchantes,” “Desire,”
“Flora,” “Volupté”--there is a host of canvases bearing similar
titles; and there are many others with symbolic names showing girls
weeping sentimental griefs over emblematic objects, such as broken
mirrors, dead birds, crushed flowers, broken eggs or jars, a kind of
badinage that was the fashion then.

In a way, he had also great success with his numerous portraits. He
never got beneath the surface, was not psychological enough to express
the soul of his sitter, but the fleshy envelope he reproduced with
skill. The pictures of his friends Pigalle and Sylvestre, and an
excellent one of the engraver Wille, whose prints, advertisements, and
praises did so much to extend the Greuze cult, are well known; and in
the vogue that followed his first success, he received commissions to
paint the Dauphin and other important personages. In spite of its dull
colour, the portrait of the painter Jeaurat, now in the Louvre, is an
interesting piece of work, showing characterisation, the brilliant
eyes giving the impression of a man accustomed to observe closely
and see most things. But naturally Greuze was at his best when he
painted women. Very beautiful is the picture of the Marquise de
Chauvelin, at present in the collection of Baron Alphonse de
Rothschild, and some of his portraits of his wife justly caused a
sensation.

    [Illustration: PLATE V.--L’OISEAU MORT

    “L’Oiseau Mort,” or “The Dead Bird,” bequeathed by Baron Arthur
    de Rothschild to the Louvre, shows one of Greuze’s most
    beautiful child-figures, a little girl who has just found her
    bird dead. You forget the mannered pose of the hands and arms,
    to admire their curves and dimples. The delicacy of the little
    grieving face is beyond praise, with the tears starting beneath
    the downcast lashes, and a mouth that seems to quiver under the
    stir of shadow that plays round it.]

To turn for a moment from the artist to the man, it goes without
saying that one so sensitive to the beauty of woman must have been
susceptible to her influence, and Greuze’s numerous heart-histories
are all the more interesting in that they are as creditable to his
chivalry as they are romantic. His first _grande passion_ was his
boyish love for the wife of his master Grandon at Lyons, a woman with
grown-up daughters. He nursed this adoration in silence, and it was
one of the idol’s daughters who afterwards told how she once surprised
the love-sick youth passionately kissing one of her mother’s shoes he
had found under a table.

Later, when he went to Italy with l’Abbé Gougenot, there was a love
story which in some of its details recalls the “Romeo and Juliet”
legend. The lovely young daughter of the proud Duke for whom he was
copying pictures fell in love with the artist, and declared her
passion. The young man was equally enamoured, but realising the
inequality of their situation he hesitated, and it was only after the
lady pined, fell ill, and had secret meetings arranged by her old
nurse, that he confessed that the love was mutual. A period of madness
followed, the lady making plans to take the money her mother had left
her and elope to Paris, where Greuze was to become a second Raphael;
but his sense of honour triumphed, and to avoid temptation he feigned
an illness which kept him away from the palace. He really did fall ill
at last, but as soon as he was able to be up he fled, fearing to see
the lady again. An agreeable, if unromantic sequel to the history is
a letter he received from the heroine some years later, thanking him
for having behaved as he had done. She was now a contented wife and
the mother of some beautiful children, she said, and she owed all her
happiness to him!

Then there is the story of his devotion to his wife; but unfortunately
that will be told later under a very different heading to that of
“romance.”



CHAPTER V

THE VANITY OF GREUZE


Mention has already been made of the overweening vanity which was
Greuze’s most pronounced personal characteristic. He had, above all,
the highest possible opinion of his own talent, and could not brook
the slightest adverse criticism of his work.

Even when he first came to Paris and had not proved his abilities, he
made enemies by stupid remarks like his reply to Natoire, who had
suggested some alteration in a detail of one of his pictures.
“Monsieur, you would be only too happy if you were able to do anything
so good yourself.” Later, when success had come and he was surrounded
by admirers, the desire for praise became a mania, and he fell into a
violent passion if any one made a remark that suggested anything but
flattery. A great friend of his, and one of his patrons, a Madame
Geoffrin, at whose house he had met many of his most influential
friends and kindest critics, said laughingly, and with truth, that
there was a “_véritable fricassée d’enfants_” in “La Mère Bien-aimée.”
Some one repeated this to Greuze.

“How dare she venture to criticise a work of art,” he cried violently.
“Let her tremble with fear lest I immortalise her by painting her as a
schoolmistress, with a whip in her hand and a face that will terrify
all children living or to be born.”

Under the influence of his infatuation for himself, he lost all sense
of the proportion of things--witness the scene when the Dauphin,
delighted with his own portrait, asked him to begin one of the
Dauphine. The presence of the lady did not prevent Greuze, ordinarily
well-mannered, and particularly so to women, from replying shortly
that he did not know how to paint heads of the kind, making reference
to the paint and powder all society women wore at the time. Small
wonder that thereafter royal favours were scarce, and he had to wait
several years longer than was necessary for the _logement_ in the
Louvre to which his position entitled him.

This same trait played a prominent part in his historic quarrel with
the Academy over his diploma picture. It was the rule for every member
to present to the Academy on his election some representative work,
but Greuze, satisfied that the honour was theirs, and that he was in a
position to form his own precedent, let years go by without offering
the expected _chef d’œuvre_. It was only when the delay had lasted
fourteen years, and they wrote saying they would be obliged to forbid
him to show his pictures in the Salon unless he fulfilled his
obligation, that he conceded to the rule, and having replied by a
letter that was “a model of pride and impertinence,” set to work on
the picture.

Believing he could do any form of subject equally well, he chose a
grandiloquent historical subject, a style absolutely unsuited to his
limitations. “Septime Sévère reprochant à son fils Caracalla d’avoir
attenté à sa vie dans les défilés d’Écosse, et lui disant, Si tu
désires ma mort, ordonne à Papinien de me la donner” was its title;
and if you look at it where it hangs skied in the Louvre above the
violently outstretched arms of “La Malédiction paternelle,” you see
that it is a most faulty and insignificant production. The Academy
could not refuse it, but they told him frankly what they thought of
it.

“Monsieur,” said the Director, calling him in from the room where he
awaited the congratulations of the associates, whose approval he
believed he had now fully earned, “the Academy receives you as
_peintre de genre_. It has taken into account your former
productions, which are excellent, and has shut its eyes on this one,
which is worthy neither of them nor you.”

The disappointment of Greuze, who had counted on the dignity and
material advantages conferred by the title of Historical Painter, can
be imagined, but amazement and fury dominated. For days he could
neither sleep nor eat; and he covered reams of paper in writing to the
papers to prove by technical laws and logical arguments that the
picture was not only good, but a masterpiece. But for once the adoring
public remained unresponsive. The last straw was his friend Diderot’s
criticism, published in the usual way.

“The figure of Septime Sévère is ignoble in character. It has the
dark, swarthy skin of a convict; its action is uncertain. It is badly
drawn, it has the wrist broken; the distance from the neck to the
breast-bone is exaggerated. Neither do you see the beginning of
the right knee nor where it goes to beneath the covering of the bed.
Caracalla is even more ignoble than his father, a wooden figure,
without suppleness or movement. Those who force their talent do
nothing with grace.”

    [Illustration: PLATE VI.--LES DEUX SŒURS

    “Les Deux Sœurs,” or “The Two Sisters,” has been until
    recently in the private collection of Baron Arthur de
    Rothschild, who bequeathed it to the Louvre, where it now hangs.
    If it lacks some of the charm of Greuze’s other pictures of
    girls, it possesses many of his most charming
    qualities--delicacy of colouring, graceful figures, appealing
    gesture. The arrangement of the scarves and draperies is
    essentially “Greuze.”]

Having exhausted all other means of protest, Greuze took refuge in the
sulkiness of a naughty child, and more or less independent now that he
was at last to have the coveted _logement_ in the Louvre, he declared
he would never again send a picture to the Academy.

Nor did he, for when, years later, he was obliged to fall back on its
aid, the Academy as he had known it was swallowed up in the whirlpool
of the Revolution.



CHAPTER VI

“THE BROKEN PITCHER” AND OTHER WELL-KNOWN PICTURES


To certain temperaments the associations of the Louvre are as
interesting as the treasures it actually contains, and many a dreamer
wandering through those superb galleries must have tried to
reconstitute such scenes as the receptions held by Greuze when, at the
height of his fame, he was at last in possession of the _logement_
granted him “for life” by the King in March 1769.

He was now in the prime of life, and the village boy had evolved into
a handsome man of middle height, with an impressive personality and
air of distinction. One of the two portraits of himself hanging now
in the Louvre must have been painted about this period. It shows a
fine head, full of energy, both mental and physical, delicate yet
strong, very sensitive, the brilliant eyes deeply set, the whole face
informed with something akin to, without being genius. The curved
mouth is eloquent, and we are told his conversation was sincere,
elevated, and animated; but much nervous irritability is indicated,
and a physiognomist would point significantly to the exaggerated slope
backwards of the otherwise fine forehead, suggesting a lack of that
reflectiveness which turns keen perceptions and observation to the
best account.

He was always perfectly dressed, his manners were elegant, and it soon
grew to be the fashion to visit his studio. He used to show his
pictures himself, explaining their beauties, and his extravagant
remarks, absorbed as he was in himself and his work, sometimes
provided more entertainment than the legitimate _raison d’être_ of the
visit. All the talent and beauty of Paris, the greatest nobles,
royalties, and distinguished travellers were at one time or another
his guests. In a characteristic letter to a friend, Madame Roland
describes her visit to see “The Broken Pitcher” we all know so well by
reproductions. The original is back in the Louvre now.

After speaking of the lovely colouring, fresh and charming, she says:
“She holds the jar she has just broken in her arms, standing near the
fountain where the accident has taken place. Her eyelids are low, and
the mouth still half-open, as she tries to understand the gravity of
her misfortune and does not know whether she is to blame. One can
imagine nothing more piquant and pretty; the only reproach the painter
merits is that he has not made the little girl sorry enough to no
longer feel the temptation to return to the fountain. I said this to
Greuze, and we laughed together.” With good-natured malice Madame
Roland goes on to relate how when Greuze told her the Emperor Joseph
II. had complimented him on the personal quality of his work, saying
he was the poet of his pictures, she replied, “It is true one never
quite understands how beautiful your pictures are till you describe
them.” A remark which Greuze took quite seriously.

The “Danæ,” now in the Louvre, and “L’Offrande à l’Amour,” in the
Wallace Collection, are also mentioned in correspondence as having
been shown by Greuze in his studio about this time. They are the best
examples of his allegorical work--there was no branch of painting he
did not attempt--but they are hardly more successful than his moral
subjects, and quite lack the charm of his homely, familiar scenes.

Chief among the latter may be mentioned “La paix du Ménage,” a young
father and mother clasping each other tenderly as they watch their
sleeping child; “La Mère Bien-aimée,” whose pretty head comes out of
a crowd of the clambering children, who excited Madame Geoffrin’s
ill-received remark; “Le Gouter,” a young mother feeding her two fat
little boys with a spoon, while a cat sits on the table watching
enviously; “Le Silence,” in which the mother, nursing one child, tells
an unhappy older one not to blow his trumpet in case he wakes the babe
in the cradle. Greuze was never tired of painting mothers with their
little children, and the picturesque interiors in which he places them
are perhaps more charming than the figures, showing, as they do, the
old-world utensils and objects he had round him in his own childhood.
The oddly-shaped cradle which he reproduced so often was that in
which he himself had been rocked.

Very celebrated at the time were the companion pictures, “L’Enfant
envoyé en Nourrice” and “Le Retour de Nourrice.” The first scene is
laid in the quaint courtyard of a little thatched farm, with all the
family clustering round the mule on which the foster-mother is to
carry away the baby. The composition is charming, with the
foster-father arranging the saddle, the grandmother giving a last word
of advice to the young nurse, the two little children afraid of the
strange dog, and the mother giving a last kiss to the baby she would
give much not to have to part with. The return of the baby, now a
sturdy child on his feet, is set in the interior, where the little
hero of the occasion struggles away from his eager mother and the
brother who strives to amuse him, to return to the foster-mother.
These are the least affected of all the subject-pictures. With the
exception of the foster-father, who stands in the second one with a
cradle on his back and his eyes piously uplifted to the rafters, all
the actors seem absorbed in what they are doing, and this sincerity
accentuates the grace and sentiment which always informs Greuze’s
work.

Engravings of all these canvases, of all his work, were sent out in
their thousands. He was well known in Germany and other countries, and
his name was almost as familiar in the bourgeois homes of provincial
France as in Paris.

Seeing him at this period of his career, the pet of princes, and
earning vast sums of money, it is difficult to realise Greuze could
ever have fallen on evil days, have come to actual want. Yet so it was
to be.

The visit of the Emperor Joseph II. referred to by Madame Roland, and
followed by a command for a picture, a present of 4000 ducats, and
the conferring of the title of baron on the painter, was the
high-water mark in his career. And the tide of success was not only to
turn, but to recede with tragic rapidity.

    [Illustration: PLATE VII.--LA CRUCHE CASSÉE

    “La Cruche Cassée,” or “The Broken Pitcher,” is too well known
    in every form of reproduction to need description. It hangs in
    the Louvre, and is always surrounded by eager copyists, who
    strive, very frequently in vain, to reproduce the delicate tints
    of the flesh and the vague, wondering expression in the eyes of
    the charming heroine.]



CHAPTER VII

RUIN AND DEATH


Even during these brilliant days, when Greuze was considered the most
fortunate of mortals, there lurked beneath the glittering surface of
his life a grim reality which made happiness impossible, the misery of
a private life dominated by as bad a wife as ever cursed a man’s
existence.

She was a Mademoiselle Babuty, daughter of a bookseller on the Quai
des Augustins, and entering the little shop to buy some books, Greuze
became infatuated with her beauty. “White and slender as a lily, red
as a rose,” is how Diderot describes her, and though she was past
thirty when Greuze made her acquaintance, she must have been a
remarkably pretty woman, with a round, smooth forehead, eyes full of
_naïveté_ beneath long shadowing lashes, small nose, moist lips,
delicate complexion. A sentimental, coquettish air redeemed what would
otherwise have been an inane expression. In the portraits under her
own name, and several pictures for which she posed, such as “La Mère
Bien-aimée” and “La Philosophie endormie,” you see that if she was not
the actual model, she was certainly the ideal that inspired most of
Greuze’s best work.

At first he had no intention of marrying her, and they had known each
other two or three years before she practically compelled him to do so
by threatening to kill herself if he did not make her his wife. It was
a disastrous marriage. Lazy, greedy, extravagant, devoid of all moral
sense, she soon got over the satisfaction the position of her husband
gave her, and began to regard his work merely as a means to supply her
caprices. When she had been married a few years she sent her two
little girls away to school, and going from bad to worse, ended by
filling the house with vulgar men, who made Greuze ridiculous. Her
business training fitted her to keep the monetary accounts of the
family, and when at length her husband was obliged to look into them
to try to account for the disappearance of vast sums of money, he
found she had been squandering them on her dissolute friends. The
extent of her audacity can be judged by her accounting for the
disappearance of 100,000 livres by saying she had invested it in a
ship which had gone down at sea, and she refused to give the name of
the vessel or captain.

Of all that freedom of mind and internal peace so important to all
successful work, but supremely so to the artist whose creations are to
be strong, Greuze knew nothing. Petty discussions, foolish quarrels,
then grievous wrongs and personal violences, made up the background of
his life, and it is astonishing that the trials of man and husband
did not sap the strength of the artist. You would wonder why he
supported it all so long did you not know that the artistic
temperament finds the most important part of its life in its work, and
falls an easy prey to imposition in most things outside it. Besides,
at first he loved her very sincerely, and she was the mother of his
two daughters. At length, when cartoons were printed ridiculing her
lightness, and her husband for supporting it, and her behaviour was
instrumental in his having to resign his _logement_ in the Louvre,
even Greuze’s patience gave way, and in 1785 a deed of separation
enabled him to get rid of her.

Considering the large sums commanded by his pictures--and it was said
he painted one a day--and the vast sale of the engravings, it is
unlikely, even with a vicious wife’s extravagance, Greuze could ever
have known want in the ordinary course of events. But the terrible
days of the Revolution were at hand. Bank after bank failed, and
slowly but surely all his savings had vanished. With the fall of the
monarchy, the annual pension of 1500 livres granted by the King for
thirty-seven years of work in “an art he had exercised with success”
went, and finally he was reduced to what he was producing as a means
of living. But, alas, when from chaos anything like order arose, and
Greuze, now grown old, sent to the Salon of the year VIII. seventeen
works of the kind that had earned for him so much glory in the past,
the new order of things knew him not. The risen David was the god of
the moment, and at each new picture of his a little more scorn fell on
those who had preceded him.

It was in vain that he wrote to the papers, calling attention, as of
old, to the moral meaning of his work; in vain that he tried to fall
in with new ideas and paint classical scenes like his “Ariadne at
Naxos.” Any notice he received was worse than none, and two years
before he died he was cruelly summed up by a critic who wrote: “Greuze
is an old man inspired by Boucher, whom he followed. His colour is not
true, his drawing poor.” We hear of his receiving 175 francs for a
picture that would formerly have brought him thousands of livres; we
hear of his wearing shabby frayed clothes he could not afford to
replace. Finally, there are pitiful letters, one asking for an advance
on a picture ordered out of charity, another saying, “I am
seventy-five years old, and have not a single order for a picture. I
have nothing left but my talent and my courage.”

In these days of bitter neglect and dire poverty Greuze’s pride stood
him in good stead. He seems to have worried more at the prospect of
leaving his daughters unprovided for than because of his own
privations, and till the last he kept the indomitable spirit that
characterised him. “Who is king to-day?” he would ask sarcastically,
as he lay in bed waiting for the end.

“I am ready for the journey,” he said to his friend Barthélemy, just
before he died. “Good-bye. I shall expect you at my funeral. You will
be all alone there, like the poor man’s dog.”

Worn out as much by the heavy weight of a dead reputation as by the
years his robust country constitution enabled him to carry so lightly,
he died on March 21, 1805. The humble funeral, followed by two
persons, would have been tragic in its friendlessness but for the
message of hope written on a wreath of Immortelles placed on his
coffin by a weeping woman closely veiled in black.

“These flowers, offered by the most grateful of his pupils, are the
emblem of his glory.”

    [Illustration: PLATE VIII.--LA LAITIÈRE

    “La Laitière,” or “The Milkmaid,” may perhaps be given as quite
    the most representative of Greuze’s works. The affected pose and
    simpering smile, the unsuitability and over-arrangement of the
    dress, are as characteristic of the painter as the perfect grace
    of the _ensemble_, the delicious coquetry of the attitude, the
    dimpled roundness of the form, and, above all, the sparkle in
    the clear eyes and the exquisite bloom of the flesh. The picture
    is in the Louvre.]



CHAPTER VIII

THE ART OF GREUZE


When you think of the important place held by Greuze before the
Revolution in the art of the eighteenth century, above all, when you
reflect on how, being long dead, he still speaks in accents of such
beauty, his pictures, valued at vast sums, finding honoured places in
the art treasure-houses of the world, it comes almost as a shock to
consider how far from being a really great artist he was.

Absence of sincerity is his chief fault. We read he used to talk much
and very eloquently about studying Nature, and had at one time a habit
of wandering about the streets in search of subjects, that he used
even to make sketches and studies on the spot, but once home and at
work on the composition of the picture, he evidently gave rein to the
libertine imagination we know. In short, if he really Saw, he
Interpreted his own way, and that way resulted in his eliminating all
the Strength and most of the Truth. In the theatrical moral pictures,
for example, it never seems to have occurred to him that each scene
that would tell a story is composed of a whole series of emotions and
gestures, and that to try to fix on one canvas a situation which of
its nature must be mobile and composed of many changes, is to attempt
the false as well as the impossible. Further, even taking him as
Diderot’s disciple, “a painter who studied with a literary man,” he is
grievously at fault, for the idea of life he conveys is that of a
melodrama in which vice is invariably punished and virtue
rewarded--and life is not thus.

He took liberties with Nature, too, when he supposedly copied his
homely, familiar scenes direct from life. His peasant women take on
attitudes and smirk as they feed the carefully placed children; no
sweeping or labour of any sort seems to soil the hands of the busiest
housewife; clinging children never succeed in disarranging the
garments or hair of the mothers and nurses. By no stretch of the
imagination could you see his milkmaids delivering milk; his servants
look like ladies “making believe.” The attitudes of all his dramatis
personæ are always affected, the _naïveté_ of his girls and children
mannered, their pathos conventional. Tears never redden their eyes; no
emotion disarranges the kerchief carefully arranged to show more than
is necessary of the throat and breast. And the head of a child of
twelve is often placed on the throat and bosom of a girl of seventeen.

Except when he touches flesh his colour is rarely good, the scheme too
grey, with undecided reds, dull violets, dirty blues, and muddy
foundations. The draperies are often badly painted, a fault which he
explained by saying he purposely neglected them to give more value to
the painting of the flesh.

Then there is his monotony. No painter ever copied himself with more
constancy and indefatigability. He has but three or four types, and
these he copies and recopies till you never want to see them again.
The father is always the same venerable man, much too old to be the
father of such young children; the mother does not vary; it is always
the same child a size or two smaller or larger, as the case may be.
Although he nominally gives to his girls and women a profession by
labelling them washerwomen, knitters, philosophers, chesnut-sellers,
kitchen wenches, and so forth, they all have the air of being members
of one family, and striking likenesses at that. And one and all have
the appearance of posing in light opera rather than of playing a part
in life. The peasant mothers of large families have that charming
coquettishness which is the hall-mark of every female he painted. The
picturesque interiors are equally wanting in variety.

It has been urged by Greuze’s admirers that if he had been properly
trained, or had at least been spared those early years in Grandon’s
picture-manufactory, had been less inclined to listen to flatteries
and the advice of Diderot, who praised him for “not making his
peasants coarse,” he might have overcome his faults and developed the
qualities of a Chardin. The reply to this is that anything touching on
genius cannot be held in check or turned from its own full expansion,
that it is more than likely that Greuze expressed all he had to say,
and himself summed up his own limitations when he said, “Be piquant,
if you cannot be true.”

To turn to the much pleasanter theme of his good qualities, Greuze was
an innovator. He was the first to go to humble life for inspiration,
and he brought into the painting of bourgeois subjects a distinct
character till then seen only in historical scenes. He created in
France the moral type of painting. On Sundays in the Louvre you still
see those who do not understand the beauty of colour, line, and
subtler poetry, and find utility the essential condition of all art,
lingering admiringly before “La Malédiction paternelle” and “Le Fils
puni”; and engravings of similar works are still cherished objects in
many a home.

Valuable, too, is his quality of being documentary. He admirably
interpreted his age with its superficiality running into
theatricalness, its affectations of a morality which worshipped
languor and voluptuousness under the name of “Innocence.”

Last and best of all, there are the heads by which we know him. Merely
clever in all else, Greuze rises above himself when he approaches
these. Nothing could be fresher or more lightly touched than the
little blonde heads of his children, the fresh rose of their cheeks,
the features suggested under the baby fat, the delicacy of the little
unformed members set down with a tenderness that mocks at the
limitations of pigments. The same rare quality of livingness animates
the older heads. The eyes of the young girls have depth and flame, or
their dewy sparkle is subdued in seductive languor. The face almost
seems to tremble with emotion while a gleaming tear, a big wet drop,
escapes from beneath the heavy lids. The nostrils quiver, the breath
comes from between the half-opened mouth, the full lips seem to be
making a movement forward. The white flesh is soft and warm, and rich
life pulses delicately under the gauze-veiled bosom.

In short, mediocre in all other branches of painting, and affected and
faulty at his best, in this exquisite series Greuze not only proves
that he possessed a very personal and poetic vision of his own, but
that he had a glint of that “divine spark” which sets technique at
naught, and results in the instinctive work of the inspired artist.


The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh





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