Although depictions of peasants and popular life in rural settings were common in the mid-17th century, Michelin situates his subjects in an urban context. The baker and his cart are prominent but the artist also presents others who sold their wares in the streets of Paris, such as the old woman offering medicinal eau-de-vie and the boy with a large basket on his back. Little is known about Michelin but this painting has served as a fixed point in defining his oeuvre since his signature and a date were discovered during a cleaning of this canvas in the late 1920s.
Inscription: Signed and dated (center left): J. Michelin / f 1656
?Baron Thiébault (until 1817; his sale [with "Potain"], Henry and Bonnefons, Paris, February 25–26, no. 71, [no dimensions], as "Vieille femme qui vend de l'eau-de-vie et du pain. A côté, au coin d'une rue, deux portefaix et un petit garçon sont debout. Un peu plus loin, un autre jeune garçon arrange quelque chose dans une charrette," by Louis Le Nain); Édouard Barré (until 1838; his sale, George and Benou, Paris, May 21–22, 1838, no. 46, [no dimensions], as "Le Nain: Deux portefaix et deux enfants sont arrêtés au coin d'une rue auprès d'une vieille femme qui vend du pain et de l'eau-de-vie; un autre enfant arrange quelque chose dans une charrette"); Miss Jane Margaret Seymour, Salisbury (until her d.; sold by her estate through Messrs. Trower, Still & Keeling to Agnew); [Agnew, London, until 1918; sale, Christie's, London, June 7, 1918, no. 47, as "Spanish Beggars, at a baker's stall," by A. L. and M. Le Nain, for £84 to Martin]; [Demotte Galleries, New York, by 1920]; [Édouard Jonas, New York, until 1927; sold to MMA]
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Paintings by Old Masters," 1920, no. 84 (as "The Proletariat," by The Brothers Le Nain, lent by DeMotte Galleries).
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Les peintres de la réalité en France au XVIIe siècle," 1934, no. 85.
Toledo Museum of Art. "The Brothers Le Nain," October 1947, no. 18.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Splendid Century, French Art: 1600–1715," March 8–April 30, 1961, suppl. no. 169.
Little Rock. Arkansas Arts Center. "Five Centuries of European Painting," May 16–October 26, 1963, unnumbered cat. (p. 30).
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. "In Focus: A Look at Reality in Art," December 28, 1964–January 31, 1965, no. 48.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux. "La peinture française: Collections américaines," May 13–September 15, 1966, no. 12.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 50.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 50.
Paris. Grand Palais. "Les frères Le Nain," October 3, 1978–January 8, 1979, no. 82.
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Orangerie, 1934: Les 'Peintres de la Réalité'," November 22, 2006–March 5, 2007, no. 85.
Paul Jamot. Letter to Josephine Lansing. September 3, 1928, commenting on a photograph of this picture, notes that one thinks immediately of Le Nain, which may be due to the subject matter; calls it one of a number of pictures that most authorities have attributed to the Le Nain brothers, but expresses doubt about the homogeneity of this group; observes that it is absolutely impossible to read the name of Le Nain in the signature revealed during our picture's cleaning.
Josephine M. Lansing. "A Fourth Member of the Le Nain Group." Metropolitan Museum Studies 1, part 2 (May 1929), pp. 201–4, ill., ascribes our picture to a fourth artist in the Le Nain group, whom she refers to as "The Le Nain Assistant," and identifies two other urban market scenes from the same hand, both in the collection of Arthur Kay, Edinburgh.
J[osephine]. M[cCarrell]. L[ansing]. "The Le Nain Assistant." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (June 1929), p. 173.
Paul Jamot. "Autour des Le Nain. Un disciple inconnu: Jean Michelin." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 63 (January–May 1933), pp. 210–12, 214–16, 218, ill. (overall and detail of signature), reads the signature as "J. Michelin f. 1656," and suggests identifying the artist with the Jean Michelin of Langres (1623–1696) who painted for Duke William of Brunswick-Lüneburg in Hannover; observes that the latter was best known for his miniature portraits of the princes and princesses of the Brunswick family; identifies five pictures [including the two reproduced by Ref. Lansing 1929] that are stylistically similar to our painting and attributes them to Michelin.
Paul Fierens. Les Le Nain. Paris, 1933, p. 31, calls this picture a "pseudo-Le Nain"; also refers to the artist as "amico di Louis [Le Nain]," who has a heavier, drier style than that of the brothers.
V. Lasareff. "An Unknown Picture by Michelin." Art in America 22 (December 1933), p. 32, attributes a seventh picture, "A Peasant Family near a Well" (Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow), to Michelin.
Charles Sterling. Les peintres de la réalité en France au XVIIe siècle. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Orangerie. Paris, 1934, pp. 121–23, no. 85, pl. 34, identifies the artist as the Jean Michelin, born in 1623 and died 1696, who worked for the dukes of Brunswick; cites the remarks of Loménie de Brienne [see Notes], in which he refers to Michelin as a maker of "Bamboches," and a forger, who sold his paintings at the fair as by Le Nain.
Paul Fierens. "Réalistes français du XVIIe siècle. IV." Journal des débats politiques et littéraires no. 4 (February 5, 1935), p. 3 [reprinted in Ref. Georgel 2006, pp. 359–60; mentioned p. 360], asserts that Michelin should have been better represented at the 1934 exhibition.
"Les peintres de la réalité en France au XVIIe siècle." Commune (February 1935), p. 647 [reprinted in Ref. Georgel 2006, p. 382], sees in this painting a powerful expression of the distress of ordinary people, noting that the more fortunate—as represented in an adjacent portrait of a well-fed, sumptuously dressed young girl [Enfant au faucon, Musée du Louvre]—depended on their labor.
Charles Sterling. "Musée de l'Orangerie: L'exposition des peintres de la réalité au XVIIe siècle." Bulletin des musées de France 7 (January 1935), p. 6, refers to our picture as Michelin's "tableau principal".
Charles Sterling. "Le problème des influences: Espagne et France au XVIIe siècle." L'Amour de l'art 16 (January 1935), ill. p. 12 (detail), illustrates a detail of this painting beside "Le peintre mendiant" by José Antolinez (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), commenting on a similarity of manner in the two artists.
George Isarlo. "Les trois Le Nain et leur suite." La Renaissance 21 (March 1938), p. 50, no. 148, identifies this painting as the "Le Nain" that appeared in the "Baron Th." sale, Paris, 1817 and, apparently again, in the Edouard Barré sale, 1838 [see Ex coll.]; claims that both descriptions omit the second boy beside the table and wonders if they may instead refer to origninals by Le Nain, after which Michelin made a copy, or whether they may, alternatively, be simplified copies after our picture; mentions a copy of the MMA painting on the art market in New York in 1981.
Charles Sterling. "Un tableau de Jean Michelin acquis par le Musée du Louvre." Bulletin des musées de France 10 (November 1938), pp. 151–53, ill., comments on differences between the style and signature of our picture and those of the miniatures by the Jean Michelin who worked in Hannover; believes that a Jean Michelin (born c. 1616, died 1670)—said to be the brother of the one active in Hannover—is more likely to be the painter of our picture and of the group of paintings clearly by the same hand.
Philippe Erlanger. Les peintres de la réalité. Paris, 1946, p. 97, ill. p. 105.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 517, no. 1381, ill. (cropped).
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 91–92, ill.
A. Hyatt Mayor. "Children Are What We Make Them." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (March 1957), ill. p. 184 (detail), notes that the "little beggar [at the left] wears clothes cast off by grownups".
Theodore Rousseau Jr. The Splendid Century: French Art, 1600–1715. Exh. cat.Washington, 1960, supplement, p. 2, no. 169.
Michael Thomas. "The Problems of the Splendid Century." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 19 (April 1961), p. 227, ill. p. 229.
Charles Sterling in "La peinture française et la peinture espagnole au XVIIe siècle: Affinités et échanges." Velázquez: Son temps, son influence. Actes du colloque tenu à la Casa de Velázquez (1960). Paris, 1963, p. 116, pl. 76c.
Jacques Thuillier and Albert Châtelet. French Painting. Geneva, 1964, p. 25, observe that Michelin's art points the way to Lépicié.
Jacques Thuillier. Les frères Le Nain. Exh. cat., Grand Palais. Paris, 1978, pp. 339–42, no. 82, ill., agrees with Sterling [Ref. 1938] in identifying the artist with the Jean Michelin who died in Paris in 1670; catalogues our picture, calls it undoubtedly Michelin's masterpiece, and observes that it prefigures Ceruti's "Mendicate e portarolo" [private collection]; mentions the 19th-century sales cited by Ref. Isarlo 1938, but correctly observes that only the description in the Thiébault sale neglects to mention the third child; calls the painting "La charrette du boulanger," but identifies its true subject as "La marchande d'eau de vie," a type as common in 17th-century Paris as a chestnut seller is in our time; observes that the picture differs profoundly from those of the Le Nain's in the sophisticated arrangement of its composition in parallel vertical planes, only rarely broken by oblique angles, in its rounded and fluid modeling, and especially in the interest in the small tradespeople of the urban scene rather than peasants in the countryside.
Pierre Rosenberg. France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1982, p. 364, fig. 8 [French ed., La peinture française du XVIIe siècle dans les collections américaines, Paris, 1982].
Pierre Rosenberg. Tout l'oeuvre peint des Le Nain. Paris, 1993, pp. 5, 103–4, no. Mi6, ill., comments on the difficulty of identifying the specific Jean Michelin responsible for this group of pictures; mentions a "mediocre replica" of our picture on the art market in New York in 1979, which he describes as signed and dated 1654 [see Notes].
Alain Mérot. La peinture française au XVIIe siècle. Paris, 1994, pp. 176–77, ill. (color, reversed), observes that Jean Michelin "put his signature to a number of very fine paintings," the most remarkable among them being his "Soldiers in an Inn" (Louvre, Paris) and the MMA "Baker's Cart".
Sophie Biass-Fabiani inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 21, New York, 1996, p. 463, identifies our artist with the Jean Michelin born before 1616, who died in Paris in 1670.
Pierre Georgel. Orangerie, 1934: Les "Peintres de la réalité". Exh. cat., Musée de l'Orangerie. Paris, 2006, pp. 20–21, 231–33, 328–29, 360, 382, no. 85, ill. pp. 69, 232 (color), refers to it as the only example of urban realism in the 1934 exhibition; notes that it is impossible to definitively identify the particular Michelin responsible for "The Baker's Cart," although a coherent group of about twenty paintings, some signed and dated, are now attributed to the same hand.
There appear to have been four artists with the name Jean Michelin active in seventeenth-century Paris (see Thuillier 1978), all of them Protestants. Sterling (1938) and Thuillier lean toward the Jean Michelin who was born about 1616 and died in Paris in 1670 as the painter responsible for a distinct body of work that includes our picture. Jamot (1933) first proposed the Jean Michelin—according to Sterling, a brother of the above Jean—born at Langres in 1623, who died in Jersey in 1696. The latter became a member of the Académie Royale in 1660 and is best known for making small portraits for the dukes of Brunswick at the court of Hanover. In 1693–95, Loménie de Brienne (Discours sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres . . .), reminiscing about his youth (ca. 1655–63), mentions the painter Michelin in the following context: "Bourdon et Michelin, le faiseur de bamboches, qu'il vendoit à la foire pour les tableaux de Le Nain, étoient deux dangereux copistes, des fourbes achevés en fait de copies . . ." Now that a body of twenty works by the artist has been assembled, many of them signed and dated, it is difficult to accept Loménie's view of the artist as a simple forger; his remarks, however, are the only instance in which an artist named Michelin is described as a maker of "Bamboches" or paintings with "low-life" subjects.
Another version of this picture dated 1654—and according to Rosenberg (1993), also signed—was sold at Christie's, New York, January 11, 1979, no. 57, ill. Rosenberg describes it as a mediocre replica.