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An image of The well-beloved mother by Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Jean-Baptiste Greuze

(France 21 Aug 1725 – 21 Mar 1805)

The well-beloved mother
Alternative title:
La mère bien aimée
circa 1770
Media category
Materials used
brush and grey ink wash with black chalk

49.0 x 62.4 cm sight; 75.5 x 88.0 x 3.5 cm frame

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of James Fairfax AC 1999
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

At the Salon of 1765 Greuze exhibited a now lost compositional sketch for 'The well-beloved mother'. It was praised for its moralism by the 'philosophe' and art critic, Denis Diderot. For Diderot, Greuze was the epitome of a new kind of painting in France, one that endowed humble, homespun dramas with the narrative force and moralising overtones of history painting. By presenting contemporary characters in recognisable settings together with forcefully expressed emotions and declamatory gestures, genre scenes like 'The well-beloved mother' were guaranteed to be immediately understood - and felt - by Greuze's audience.

On the basis of the sketch exhibited at the Salon of 1765 Greuze then developed a finished painting. This picture was painted on commission for the Marquis de Laborde, who evidently required Greuze to turn his genre scene into a group portrait of the patron and his family.

This drawing was made after the painting, which was exhibited only very briefly at the salon of 1769. It was intended to serve as the model for an engraving by Carlo Antonio Porporati, who signed a contract with Greuze to make the print in March 1771. Porporati, however, never carried the project through and the following year Jean Massard entered into an agreement to produce the engraving. It was not published until 1775. The drawing's purpose accounts for its unusually detailed and careful finish. Greuze insisted that the drawing be faithfully reproduced to size by the engraver.

Bibliography (7)

Richard Beresford and Peter Raissis, The James Fairfax collection of old master paintings, drawings and prints, Sydney, 2003, 90-93, 91 (colour illus.), 92 (colour illus.). 24, illustration on page 92 is a detail

A Brandt, Town and Country, 'The Prince of Prints and the Duke of Drawings - David Tunick', New York, Oct 1993, 119.

A.F. Collins, House & garden, 'Drawn to the Master', New York, Apr 1991, 90.

Bernadette Fort, Framing women, 'Framing the wife: Jean-Baptiste Greuze's sexual contract', pg.89-124, Germany, 2003, 89, 91, 105, 107-111, 124 (illus.).

Edgar Munhall, Greuze the Draftsman, London, 2002, 200-203, 201 (colour illus.). 70

Simon Schama, Citizens: a chronicle of the French Revolution, 'Casting roles: children of nature', pg.142-158, London, 2004, vol. 1: 150, 151 (illus.). pl. 43

Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 1999, 'Collections: European Art Before 1900', pg. 20-21, Sydney, 1999, 20 (illus.), 21.

Exhibition history (4)

Greuze the Draftsman:

The James Fairfax collection of old master paintings, drawings and prints, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Apr 2003–20 Jul 2003

Old Europe: Prints & drawings from the collection 1500-1800, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 03 Jun 2006–06 Aug 2006

European prints and drawings 1500-1900, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Aug 2014–02 Nov 2014

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