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 Jean-Baptiste Greuze  (1725 - 1805)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: history, sentimental genre and portrait painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Jean-Baptiste Greuze
1725 (Tournus, France)
1805 (Paris, France)


Self portrait -

Often Known For
history, sentimental genre and portrait painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

An 18th-century painter of melodramatic genre, morality lessons, female figures and portraits whose subjects included Mozart and Benjamin Franklin, Jean-Baptiste Greuze was born in the Burgundy region of France.  He spent most of his career in Paris, where he was mentored by a portrait artist from Lyon named Grandon (Grondom).  This artist was an advocate for the young Greuze, whose father had discouraged him from following his art talents.  In Paris, Greuze worked from the live model at the Royal Academy.  Gradually his work attracted the attention of members of the nobility such as the family of Madame d'Epinay, a French writer whose love affairs included Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot.

In 1755, Greuze's painting, Father Reading the Bible, was judged accomplished enough to merit much encouragement from Academicians.   That same year, he went to Italy with Abbé Louis Gougenot, who had influence among fine art professionals, which led to Greuze being elected him an honorary member of the Royal Academy in Italy because of his accomplishments in allegory and mythology.  However, he was not encouraged by the exposure he got in Italy, and returned to Paris in search of better training for portraiture, genre and figure work.

Beginning in the late 1850s, he received increasing accolades for his painting, which influenced by Rousseau, was getting increasingly naturalistic.  By 1765, he had reached a great high point with the exhibition of thirteen paintings at the Academy's Salon.  However, members gave him a tough time because they demanded that he show them a diploma from an accredited art institution, something he did not have.  The Academy finally received him as a new member with all honours but as a genre painter, meaning he was not officially recognized for his portraits or history canvases.  In 1769, Salon organizers rejected his painting, Septimius Severus Reproaching Caracalla, and Greuze was so angered that he did not exhibit again until 1804, when the Academy was much less rigid because of the Revolution breaking down aristocratic barriers.  However, by that time his subjects and Neo-Classical style had waned in popularity. 

The next year, 1805, Jean-Baptiste Greuze died in the Louvre.  He was impoverished, having been wealthy but having squandered his fortune and also losing money to an embezelling wife.  During his last years, he was desperate for commissions but diminished in talent, which meant that much of his late work was lacking in the quality for which he had been known.   One of his last paintings was an 1804 portrait of Napolean Bonaparte.

Greuze left many paintings, many which are in the Louvre as well as the Wallace Collection in London, the Musée Fabre in Montpellier and a museum dedicated to him in his hometown of Tournus.

Sources include:
Normand, J. B. Greuze (1892); Emma Barker, Greuze and the Painting of Sentiment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). 
Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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