Shepherd with His Flock in a Clearing

Jean-Baptiste Le Prince French

Not on view

While this bucolic drawing in brown wash from 1776 is similar to the earlier pastoral scenes Jean-Baptiste Le Prince produced as a student of François Boucher, it also relates to Le Prince’s later projects in print. Many of the tree types, such as the pollarded group on the left, and compositional motifs repeat those Le Prince described in his artistic manual, Drawing Principles for the Genre of Landscape [Principes du dessins dans le genre du Paysage], which was published and engraved by Gilles Demarteau in 1773 (1). The four folios join reproductions of drawings by Le Prince engraved in the crayon manner with texts that encourage the user to study nature’s individual elements and then combine these components into leafy branches, full trees, and finally groves. Applying these principals to his own work, Le Prince populates this landscape with distinct, identifiable trees, each of which has a different leaf shape, branch structure, and movement in the wind that sweeps through the composition.

This drawing also demonstrates a particularly sophisticated use of tone, which spans from the most delicate and diaphanous shade of ink in the trees receding into the distance to the saturated shadows in the bottom right. In a particularly dramatic passage, Le Prince captures the humid, lush foliage with a heavily applied ink that seems still liquid in the eddies of the stream beneath the reeds. Le Prince’s sophisticated approach to brown wash in this drawing arguably reflects his work in aquatint, a tonal intaglio print technique, for which he developed a unique approach in 1768 (2). In aquatints such as The Washerwomen (2010.543) from 1771, Le Prince translates complex scenes into a sequence of tones, an artistic practice which encouraged a heightened awareness of how tone structures a composition. After working in aquatint for eight years, this drawing reflects his practiced adeptness at wielding subtle variations in tone to produce a sense of light and space.

(1) Charlotte Guichard, "Les ‘livres à dessiner’ à l’usage des amateurs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle," Revue de l’Art 143, no. 1 (2004): 49-58.

(2) Antony Griffiths, "Notes on Early Aquatint in England and France," Print Quarterly 4, no. 3 (1987): 255-270; and Rena Hoisington, "Etching as a Vehicle for Innovation: Four Exceptional Peintres-Gravures," in Arts and Amateurs, Etching in Eighteenth-Century France, ed. Perrin Stein (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014), 68-101.

(Thea Goldring, May 2021)

Shepherd with His Flock in a Clearing, Jean-Baptiste Le Prince (French, Metz 1734–1781 Saint-Denis-du-Port), Brush, brown wash over black chalk. Framing lines in pen and brown ink.

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