Sauvage, from Tournai, first exhibited in Paris at the Académie de Saint-Luc in 1774, presenting a moralizing subject from ancient history painted as if in imitation of a marble bas-relief. At the same time he showed two small pictures that were intended to look like antique bronze friezes. One of them, the "Mercantessa di amorini," the so-called "Sale of Cupids," he based on an engraving of an ancient Roman wall painting that had been excavated and engraved (the exhibition list indicated that it was from Herculaneum). Sauvage was admitted to full membership of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783 and showed at every Salon from 1781 through 1798. His entire career was given over to fictive depictions of sculpture, many of them replicating well-known marbles, but also compositions of his own invention: these paintings, a tour-de-force, were much sought after generally and were commissioned in large numbers to decorate the royal residences, where they served principally as overdoors. He must have achieved his exceptional popularity as a wholehearted exponent of Neoclassicism.
Sauvage's figural compositions are often arranged against a ground that either was made of, or imitated, marble or stone. Here they imitate modeling in wax and the support is a thick piece of slate that has been split in half. Typically, Sauvage's compositions are long and narrow and the principal figures have been adapted to the format: the nymphs are seated, low to the ground, in profile, and each is dressed and has her hair arranged in what the eighteenth century saw as the antique manner. They are surrounded by gamboling putti, either with grapes, to evoke the vintage season, or brandishing garlands of flowers. Sauvage pays close attention to the glassy highlights along the rounded curves of the forms.
[Katharine Baetjer 2011]