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Jean-Baptiste Greuze (Tournus 1725-1805 Paris)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (Tournus 1725-1805 Paris)

A girl looking over her shoulder

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (Tournus 1725-1805 Paris)
A girl looking over her shoulder
oil on canvas
15 ¾ x 12 1/8 in. (40 x 30.6 cm.)
Theodore Patureau, inventory no. 56; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 20-21 April 1857, lot 55, where acquired by
Isaac Pereire; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8-9 March 1872, lot 63.
Private collection, Geneva, by 1954.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 19 April 1967, lot 65.
Geneva, Musée Rath, Trésors de Collections Romandes, 26 June-3 October, 1954, no. 40

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Lot Essay

A superb portraitist and unexcelled draftsman, Greuze is most celebrated for a series of moral genre scenes, which, commencing in the mid-1750s, combined a topical sensibilité with the domesticity of the 17th-century Dutch masters. Exhibited at successive Salons, they elicited the praise of the influential critic Denis Diderot, who recognized in his paintings a 'dramatic poetry to touch us, teach us, to correct us and to incite us to virtue!' Following rejection by the Salon of his ambitious classical history painting, Septimius Severus Reprimanding his Son Caracalla (1769; Louvre), and the refusal of the Academy to accept him as a history painter, he withdrew from the public exhibitions to work and exhibit privately at his studio. Despite his success and the constant patronage of an international clientele, Greuze was always in need of money and turned increasingly from the 1770s onward to painting sentimental – and sometimes salacious – images of young women and small-scale expressive heads, such as the present painting.
Executed with lively brushwork, thick impasto and a robust, Rubensian palette, A Girl Looking Over Her Shoulder, is a fine example of the seductive charms of the paintings that Greuze produced for the market in the later years of his career, effectively evoking what Paul Mantz (1865) described as 'the precocious coquetry of woman with the naivety of childhood.' This composition was, understandably, widely admired and is known to exist in several copies, one of which was acquired by Queen Victoria in 1843 (Royal Collection).
The present painting was sold in Paris in 1857 in the sale of the distinguished collector Theodore Patureau, where it was acquired by Isaac Perière. The 4th Marquess of Hertford, whose unrivalled collection of paintings by Greuze are among the foundational treasures of The Wallace Collection, London, purchased his famous Psyche (1786) at the same sale, later remarking, 'I never saw or even heard of anything so enormous as the prices some of the pictures fetched.’
Our thanks to Alastair Laing for endorsing the attribution to Greuze of the present lot, in correspondence with the owner, 9 October 2018.

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