Thursday, January 13, 2011

Painting of the Day: “Silence!” By Jean-Baptist Greuz, 1759

Jean-Baptist Greuz, 1759
Acquired by King George IV, 1817
The Royal Collection
This French painting was acquired by King George IV in 1817. It was a peculiar purchase for the King who wasn’t prone to picking domestic genre scenes. He was, however, enchanted by all things French, and perhaps this intimate painting with its frank depiction of raising children, put him in mind of French attitudes toward life.

This handsome piece comes from the hand of Jean-Baptist Greuz who achieved considerable fame with his paintings of Eighteenth-Century, French domestic life. This work from 1759 who created, along with a companion piece for one of Greuz’s most loyal patrons who allowed the works to be displayed that year at the Paris Salon.

The following was displayed on a card alongside the painting:

A Painting representing Rest, characterized by a Woman who obliges her son to be silent by pointing to her other sleeping children.
The rather disheveled little boy has been up to considerable mischief. We can see that he’s been irritating his mother by making noise on his toy trumpet. We can assume that he’s responsible for the broken drum which hangs from the back of the chair of the slumbering child. His mother urges him, “Silence,” by pointing at the other little boy who is fast asleep.

The companion painting to this work showed the same mother with the disheveled boy. That painting, entitled “The Spoilt Child,” depicted a scene of paternal indulgence as the mother watches her son feed his dinner to a happy dog.


SherR said...

Quite possibly George IV also liked this picture because it reminded him of the scenes in his own homes - where his housekeeper oversaw the welfare and education of the street kids he rescued. She was an adoptive mother to them, just as she was to George himself.

Also, the date of the painting (1759) means it was created during a period when the French birth rate had dropped precipitously. Children 'weren't fashionable', though some observed that the continual chronic shortages of food & jobs also discouraged family life.

It was a thoughtful period for French artists considering the subject of families and children. Some pictures are almost 'marriage counselling in paint' - reminding the viewer that children brought responsiblities as well as joy. The viewer was asked to consider all consquences of family life before making a decision yea or nay. "Silence!" is part of this genre.

In this period, some French aristocrats prefered to adopt unwanted 'commoner' children as their heirs rather than "bring more mouths to feed into this struggling country." One dutchess (unmarried) adopted five. No wonder that less than a generation later there were so many aristocrats who felt a social conscience and wanted to reform creaking French institutions. Aristocracy (they understood) was only skin deep. They'd been resuced from lifelong poverty and penury by aristocrats who could see beyond 'title&lineage'; they wanted others to have the same opportunities in a generally freer society.

Joseph Crisalli said...

Interesting insights, SherR! Thank you!