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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Head of a Young Boy

Artist:
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French, Tournus 1725–1805 Paris)
Date:
1763
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
18 7/8 x 15 3/8 in. (47.9 x 39.1 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Accession Number:
32.100.137
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 615
At the 1763 Salon Greuze showed this head of a boy and two heads of girls, both of which were the same size as the present small painting. The head of a boy then belonged to the drawings collector Pierre Jean Mariette (1694–1774) and it was included in his 1775 estate sale under number 24.
Relatively rough brushwork in which the individual strokes are not disguised is used throughout. This is deliberate, and typical of character studies made by Greuze from the model as opposed to commissioned portraits.

Among his many exhibits at the Paris Salon of 1763, Greuze showed a head of a boy and two heads of girls; all were the same relatively small size of the present picture but no two were identified as a pair. One of the three, the painting of a boy, belonged to the drawings collector Pierre Jean Mariette (1694–1774). At the 1775 Mariette estate sale, the head of a boy and a bust of a seated girl were sold under number 24, as if they were a pair, and slight drawings of both were made by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780) in the margins of his copy of the sale catalogue. Because of the resemblance of the present composition to Saint-Aubin’s drawing, it is generally agreed that this is the boy; however the painting of a seated girl has not been identified with certainty.

Relatively rough, open brushwork in which the individual strokes are neither blended nor disguised is used throughout, not only in the richly colored brown background, but for the coat, and even for the boy’s face. This is deliberate and typical of character studies that were made by Greuze from the model, as opposed to commissioned portraits. All three layers of the boy’s clothing are unbuttoned to expose as much as possible of the soft and delicate pale skin of the neck and chest.

The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed a developing interest in children at various levels of society, and there was great curiosity about their educability, as well as their psychology and susceptibility to various emotional states. In the expressive heads of which this is one Greuze mined a particular vein of sentiment, which was popular with his contemporaries and in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but much less so in recent times. The head studies are mostly of girls and women. In addition to the interest they held for the artist, they may well have been a useful source of revenue.

[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
Pierre Jean Mariette, Paris (by 1763–d. 1774; his estate sale, Basan, Paris, February 1, 1775, no. 24, as "un jeune garçon" with "une jeune fille assise, ayant la tête penchée & la gorge à demi-couverte," each 17 x 14 pouces, for 1,701 livres to De[s]marets); ?M. L.*** [Lapeyrière] (sale, Perignon, Paris, April 14 ff., 1817, no. 79, “Un jeune Paysan vu en buste, la tête tournée de trois quarts, et coiffé de longs cheveux blonds qui tombent sur ses épaules,” 17 x 14 pouces); marquis du Blaisel, Paris (until d. 1870; his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 16–17, 1870, no. 54, for Fr 6,100); Jules Porgès, Paris (until 1919; sale, Galerie du Vicomte Jacques de la L . . . et autres provenances, Fiévez, Brussels, July 3, 1919, no. 34); [Kleinberger, New York, 1919; sold to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1919–d. 1931)
Paris. Salon. 1763, no. 135 (as "Une Tête de petit Garçon," 15 pouces x 1 pied, in the collection of M. Mariette).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.

Louisville. J. B. Speed Art Museum. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," December 1, 1948–January 23, 1949, no catalogue.

Madison. Memorial Union Gallery, University of Wisconsin. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," February 15–March 30, 1949, unnumbered cat.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," April 24–June 30, 1949, no catalogue.

Bellingham, Wash. Whatcom Museum of History and Art. "5000 Years of Art," 1976, no. 58.

Denis Diderot. Salon de 1763. 1763 [published in Ref. Seznec and Adhémar, vol. 1, 1957, p. 237], criticizes the dull, brassy hair, but notes that in costume, character, and coloring the painting is skillful.

John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 8, London, 1837, p. 426, no. 97, among prints after Greuze, lists "Le doux regard de Colin," engraved by D[e]nnel.

Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, p. 355, among prints, lists “Le Petit Frère,” without the name of an engraver, as from the Livois collection, in the 1811 Gamba sale, and the 1836 Henry sale (as “Sans-Souci” with a pendant, “Petite Soeur”); lists separately, “Le Doux Regard de Colin,” and “Le Doux Regard de Colette,” engraved by Dennel; and additionally, “La Petite Soeur,” engraved by Hauer, also known as “Bonnet rond,” which made 3,000 livres in the Véri sale of 1783.

J. Martin and Ch. Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de Jean-Baptiste Greuze [supplement to C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze]. Paris, 1905, p. 31, no. 444 (Le doux regard de Colin), p. 60, no. 961 (Jeune garçon), p. 61, no. 967 (Jeune villageois), list the picture under three titles; in one case add the Randon de Boisset sale of 1777; in another mention the Sonneville sale of 1780.

Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. definitive ed. Paris, 1906, pp. 86–87.

Edmond Pilon. J.-B. Greuze, peintre de la femme et la jeune fille du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, [1912?], pp. 56–57.

Marcel Roux. Inventaire du fonds français, graveurs du XVIIIe siècle. Vol. 6, Paris, 1949, p. 506, catalogues the Dennel engraving (no. 4), adds to the provenance Mariette, Desmarets, and Le Brun aîné.

Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, p. 176, ill. p. 177, as a typical Greuze "character head"; mentions similar pictures formerly in the Ganay collection (sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 4, 1903, no. 21, ill.) and in the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Jean Seznec and Jean Adhémar, ed. Salons. By Denis Diderot. Vol. 1, 1759, 1761, 1763. Oxford, 1957, pp. 182–83, mention a pendant, "Petite Fille," and suggest the La Live sale of 1769 as former provenance.

James Thompson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 10–12, figs. 7–8 (color, overall and detail).

Nicole Garnier-Pelle. Chantilly, Musée Condé: Peintures du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1995, p. 58, mentions it in connection with "Jeune garçon" (no. 23, ill. in color p. 57) and speculates that the same model posed for both.

Joseph Baillio. Two Pastel Portraits of Children of the Caillot Family by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842). New York, n.d., p. 1, fig. 3 (color).



Edgar Munhall records a version that he considers not by Greuze owned in 1945 by Rotgé in Paris (47 x 38 cm).
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