Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Head of a Young Woman

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French, Tournus 1725–1805 Paris)
probably 1780s
Oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 12 3/4 in. (41 x 32.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967
Accession Number:
Not on view
The model’s head is slightly thrown back and her lips are parted to suggest high emotion. Her loose gown and dark vest are a form of fancy dress. In painting the tendrils of hair against pale soft skin, Greuze displays the extraordinary finesse for which he was famous.
From September 1755 until April 1757 Greuze was in Italy, spending the greater part of his time in Rome. It is sometimes said that he was little influenced by what he saw, though he did make costume studies (see 1982.93.2) and drawings from the model. There is however a specific source of inspiration for the finely tuned emotional, not to say erotic, heads of women with their heads thrown back and lips parted. It may be found in a drawing (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg) that he based on the head of the saint from the marble group by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) of The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. And surely he must also have known the work of Guido Reni (1575–1642), whose female saints so often direct their gaze toward the heavens.

Our picture would have been studied from a professional model wearing a kind of elegant peasant costume rather than contemporary dress. If the sensibility the artist expressed when painting her is alien to modern taste, it should still be possible to admire the subtle play of the few colors, the use of red, the modeling of the thick white pigment of the blouse, and the transparency of the striped gray gauze veil. When writing about Greuze’s Salon exhibits in the 1760s, the critic Denis Diderot (1713–1784) once remarked that he could paint skin of an infinitely velvety softness.

[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
?Sir Anthony Rothschild, 1st Baronet (until d. 1876); his daughter, Hon. Mrs. Eliot Constantine Yorke, London and Southampton (until d. 1926; her estate sale, Christie's, London, May 6, 1927, no. 29, as "Contemplation," for £60.0.0 to Smith [Wildenstein]); [Wildenstein, London and New York, 1927–61; sold to de Groot]; Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York (1961–67)
Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 45.

J. Martin and Charles Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de Jean-Baptiste Greuze [published as supplement to C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paris, 1905]. Paris, 1905, p. 45, no. 669, as "La Contemplation. Jeune fille, vue presque de face, regardant en haut. No. 846, galerie San-Luca, à Rome".

James Thompson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 47–48, ill. (color).

Michel Delon, ed. The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. p. 240 (color).

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