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All Greuze Paintings in Los Angeles Collections Gathered in Getty Exhibition

Greuze the Painter: Los Angeles Works in Context presents the expressive 18th-century artist's works with international loans to complement Greuze the Draftsman exhibition

Press Preview: Tuesday, September 10, 2002, 9-11 a.m.

August 15, 2002

LOS ANGELES—Concurrently with the major traveling exhibition Greuze the Draftsman, the Getty Museum presents a complementary installation, Greuze the Painter: Los Angeles Works in Context, on view from September 10 through December 1, 2002. Greuze the Painter highlights paintings by the 18th-century French artist in Los Angeles museums and presents them with works from national and international lenders including the Louvre, the State Hermitage Museum, and The Frick Collection.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) was as talented and versatile a painter as he was a draftsman. This exhibition of 12 paintings will put the artist’s drawings in context and bring to light the vibrant expressiveness of his brushwork and his compelling subjects.

“Greuze’s feeling for the gestural flow of paint, its creamy textures and lustrous translucencies, endows his pictures with a striking vitality and modernity,” noted Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings and acting curator of sculpture at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “These paintings show why his manner of painting has been compared to dramatic theater and to a sensuous act.”

The works on view span the artist’s career, from his first Salon painting of 1755 to his last of 1804, with five paintings from Los Angeles collections providing the core of the exhibition. They are The Knitter Asleep (1757–59) from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; The Laundress (1761) and Cimon and Pero: “Roman Charity” (about 1767) from the J. Paul Getty Museum; and Girl with a Lamb (1785) and Portrait of a Lady in Turkish Fancy Dress (about 1790) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Every subject Greuze depicted is represented—his innovative domestic scenes and family dramas, the portrait, the expressive head, and the historical narrative. Some of these subjects won Greuze early adulation and others gained him notoriety later. Yet throughout his life, Greuze painted with the spirited touch that earned him praise as an “athlete of painting.”

During his lifetime, as now, Greuze’s audience was moved by the personalities in his paintings. Exhibited at the Salon of 1761, The Laundress inspired the critic Diderot to observe, "This little laundress is charming, but she's a rascal I wouldn't trust an inch."  Indeed, the artist stripped the traditional theme of the washerwoman of its association with the virtue of hard work and instead overlaid it with a titillating sensuality typical of Rococo art. In a room scattered with wet and drying laundry, a disheveled maidservant with an exposed stocking and slipper engages the viewer with a provocative gaze. Greuze used a heavily loaded brush to apply patches of paint that describe texture and surface—the folds of the young woman's dress, the heaviness of wet cloth, the dull sheen on the pewter jug, and the grainy texture of wood.

Representing a pivotal moment in Greuze’s career, Cimon and Pero shows the artist experimenting with the genre of history painting. The work depicts the ancient Roman story of the aged Cimon, who was forced to starve in prison before his execution, and his devoted daughter Pero, who secretly visited her father to nourish him at her own breast. In the 1600s, major artists painted dramatic versions of this popular subject, which Greuze and others revived a century later. Closely basing the setting and arrangement of figures on a version by Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640), Greuze probably made this oil sketch as the final stage of preparation for an unexecuted, large-scale painting. The work reveals the deep colors and dark tones demanded by sober historical subjects. As a result of this experimentation, between 1767 and 1769 Greuze’s palette noticeably changed. Although he was not recognized by the Academy as a history painter, he never returned to the cool, pastel harmonies of his early paintings.

Related Publication

Jean-Baptiste Greuze: The Laundress (90 pages, paperback $17.95), published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a lively and engrossing book with 40 color and 32 black-and-white illustrations. Author Colin B. Bailey, chief curator of The Frick Collection, traces the history of the Getty’s
The Laundress, Greuze’s painting that was exhibited to great acclaim in the Salon of 1761, and explores social mores and the role of the artist’s model in the 18th-century. The book also provides an enlightening account of Greuze’s life and influences. It is available in the Getty Museum Bookstore, online at www.getty.edu, or by calling 800-223-3431.

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