Photo credit: Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library
Can anyone help us identify the artist?
We recently received an enquiry about this painting. We have no information about it and the artist is listed as unknown. After having a look at the reverse I spotted a very small printed label glued to the stretcher, possibly an exhibition label.
70. The Companion Greuze
After doing a quick search I came up with the name Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The painting doesn't appear to be signed. Can anyone help us identify the artist?
An interesting painting clearly in a style suggesting Greuze. The discarded shoe, the distress of the young maid, the unbuttoned clothing of the boy, suggests a narrative popular at the time. In this case perhaps a young son of the household visiting the maid rather than going to school (see books). His cheeky stare and the placing of the finger to his lips indicates that he is asking the viewer to keep his secret. In the 18C the discarded shoe suggests a certain act has taken place and the girl's distress suggests she is having second thoughts. The addition of the mattress cast on the floor leaves little to the imagination. In summary, unless it is a copy of perhaps a work by Greuze or a follower of this artist, the narrative is well represented and would have appealed to buyers of the time.
This certainly has the look of Greuze -- or at least the content, so well described in the post above, would seem to be typical of his work. However, the painting is not good enough in detail to be by him. Could it perhaps be based on an engraving after Greuze?
A quick web sarch has not yet found it, but a closely related subject is Greuze’s ‘Les plaintes de l'horloge’ or ‘La vertu chancelante’ (Virtue faltering) in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. See the engraving in the BM 1871,0812.3830 and the original painting on the Web Gallery of Art.
This subject does not seem to appear in Camille Mauclair’s 1905 catalogue raisonné of Greuze, on https://archive.org/details/gri_jeanbaptiste00mauc
Influenced by Greuze undoubtedly, but clearly by a follower as its lacks Greuze. I would suggest somebody working in the orbit od Etienne Aubry (1746-1781) . Indeed, Aubry often incorporated very greuzian figures (especially for female models). He often painted moralizing genre paintings (very popular around the time of the French Revolution). Nevertheless it is a bit more caricatural than established works by Aubry.
My suggestion would be that it can be best described as a follower/workshop of Etienne Aubry.
Aubry 'Heureuse famille' Piasa, paris lot 178 31/03/2014
Aubry 'Mère heureuse' Christies London lot 256 03/07/2013
Aubry 'Fils fautif' Christie's NY lot 286 31/01/2013
Aubry 'Les bulles de savon' Rieunier, paris, lot 16, 17/06/2002
Aubry 'La cruche cassée' Christie's Paris, lot 53, 26/06/2002
It just falls a bit short to be fully attributed by Aubry.
I don't think I have read that a precise prototype of this composition has been found, but there is little doubt that Greuze is the artist who lies behind it. It must be a somewhat later copy of a painting or print as Greuze's touch is much more subtle than this.
I would concur with Christophe Janet in calling it closer to Aubry than to Greuze, but there are some slightly unusual features about it that make me wonder whether it might not even be an English imitation of the genre.
There exists no known direct prototype by Greuze.
Thank you for Alistair Laing's precision that seems right on the spot.
The title should be changed, since there is no man in the picture but a schoolboy with a very young housemaid. Something like "The Chambermaid and the Son of the House." It is quite reasonable to classify the picture as "style of" or "manner of" Jean-Baptiste Greuze.
A more coy and probably more period-appropriate title would be "The Precocious Schoolboy."