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Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Jean-Baptiste Greuze

*  1725 Tournus
† 1805 Paris

Jean Greuze, who changed his name to Jean Baptiste in the mid 1750s, was born son of a roofer at the French town of Tournus in 1725. Later Jean Baptiste Greuze, who was ashamed of his simple origins, said his father was an architect. The talents of Jean Baptiste Greuze showed as early as in his childhood: An anecdote reports that Jean Baptiste Greuze redrew a copper engraving at the tender age of eight in such an exact way that it was mistaken for the original.
Jean Baptiste Greuze completed an apprenticeship as painter with Charles Grandon, a portrait painter from Lyon, in the late 1740s; in 1750 he began studies with Charles-Joseph Natoire at the academy in Paris. Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, who recognized the young painter’s gift, proposed him for membership of the academy, in 1755 he was accepted temporarily; he did not turn in his work of admission before 1769. Louis Gougenot enabled the gifted emerging artist to go on a study journey to Italy, the influence of this journey on his art is a matter of controversy.
Around 1757, the year he returned to Paris again, was the beginning of a very successful period for Jean Baptiste Greuze, a period that would last up into the mid 1760s: He showed his late rococo works, genre paintings and portraits at "Salon" exhibitions, where they were much celebrated by critics (e.g. by Denis Diderot). They sold particularly well with persons of high standing. It did not take long before first imitations appeared. However, Jean Baptiste Greuze enforced the spread of his works by making high-quality reproduction engravings. Additionally, he had numerous students, among them his daughter Anne-Geneviève Greuze, as well as Marie-Geneviève Brossard de Beaulieu, Philiberte Ledoux and Constance Mayer.
In his best years his marriage with the Anne-Gabrielle Babuti, whom he married with a high dowry in 1759, was still happy. But as of 1767, after his clients‘ buying power and his wife’s fidelity had gone down, he became increasingly unhappy and did not see any other way out then to divorce, which was eventually executed in 1793.
As far as his artistic career is concerned, his star began to wane as of the late 1760s: in 1769 his admission painting for the academy was a failure, accordingly, he stopped showing works at the "Salons". From that point on his genre paintings were more austere, made in a style that called reminiscence of Nicolas Poussin‘s baroque classicism. During the years of the revolution, when even the modified rococo was not "en vogue" any longer, Jean Baptiste Greuze lost in recognition and had financial problems. The once successful Jean Baptiste Greuze died a poor man in his studio in Paris in 1805.