In the eighteenth century, attention was given to the joys of unspoiled childhood, a golden age. Here the elegantly dressed little girls play with stick horses and a pinwheel.
The picture is first recorded in 1766, in the Paris house of the wealthy collector and connoisseur Ange Laurent de La Live de Jully (1725–1779). It was one of a pair, described as "Deux petits tableaux sur bois, de Jean-Baptiste Pater, représentans des Jeux d'enfans," or "two little pictures on wood, by Jean-Baptiste Pater, representing children's games." Pater died in 1736, so La Live de Jully cannot have commissioned the works, but he must have admired them particularly, as he engraved them himself, under the title L'Âge d'or. Sold as a single lot in 1770, the two were separated thereafter. The other painting seems to have reappeared in the 1822–23 Paris sale of the late Robert de Saint-Victor, where it is described as a group of children with a little girl riding in a cart shaped like a cradle and pulled by two dogs, a description which accords with La Live de Jully's engraving. The painting has never since reappeared. The subjects were not replicated.
The present work, in an exceptionally fine state of preservation, is unusual for Pater in at least three respects: it is very small, on panel, and depicts children only. Four elegantly dressed small girls, two of them with fine silk stockings, are engaged with their toys. One wears a feathered cap, two are playing with stick horses, and a fourth holds up a windmill pinwheel, also mounted on a stick, to the breeze. They are accompanied by three younger boys, the one in the foreground doing a somersault, and a spotted dog.
[Katharine Baetjer 2010]
Ange-Laurent de La Live de Jully, Paris (by 1764–70; cat., 1764, p. 36, as "Jeux d'enfans," one of two small panels by Pater, "Six pouces de haut sur huit pouces & demi de large [6 1/4 x 9 in.]"; his sale, Rémy, Paris, March 5 ff., 1770, no. 73, as "deux tableaux . . . , dans l'un on voit un enfant dans un chariot tiré par deux chiens & cinq autres enfans dont un le conduit; dans l'autre, sept enfans jouent ensemble, dont deux courent à cheval sur des bâtons; ils sont peints sur bois, & portent chaque 6 pouces de haut, sur 8 pouces 6 lignes de large. M. de la Live les a gravés sous le titre de l'âge d'or," for 520 livres to Ménageot); [?Augustin Ménageot]; Monsieur E. H . . . (until 1951; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 9, 1951, no. 53, for Fr 3,150,000 to Linsky); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1951–his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
Ange-Laurent de La Live de Jully. Catalogue historique du cabinet de peinture et sculpture françoise de M. de Lalive. Paris, 1764, p. 36, lists the two panels and notes that they have been engraved by an "amateur".
Hébert. Dictionnaire pittoresque et historique. Vol. 1, Paris, 1766, p. 122, lists two paintings on wood representing childrens' games in the collection of Lalive de Jully.
P. Hédouin. "Peintres du 18e siècle: Jean Baptiste Pater." Archives historiques et littéraires du Nord de la France et du Midi de la Belgique, 3rd ser., 1 (1850), p. 416, no. 15.
Louis Courajod in Lazare Duvaux. Livre-journal de Lazare Duvaux, marchand-bijoutier ordinaire du roy, 1748–1758. repr., 1965. Paris, 1873, vol. 1, p. 283.
Florence Ingersoll-Smouse. Pater. Paris, 1928, p. 77, no. 503, fig. 205 (engraving, in reverse, by Lalive, entitled "L'age d'or"), catalogues La Live's two paintings of "L'age d'or," claiming that the other is slightly larger and on canvas, but calls them pendants nevertheless; suggests that they figured as nos. 575–76 in the Saint-Victor sale, November 26, 1822–January 7, 1823.
Katharine Baetjer inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 116–18, no. 44. ill., remarks that if the second picture in the Saint-Victor sale of 1822 was slightly larger and on canvas, then it is unlikely that the two were pendants.
Colin B. Bailey inAnge-Laurent de La Live de Jully: A Facsimile Reprint of the "Catalogue historique" (1764) and the "Catalogue raisonné des tableaux" (March 5, 1770). New York, 1988, p. LX.
The panel has been enlarged by about 1/2 in. (1.27 cm) on each side. The paint on the added strips is not original.