This beautiful and sensitive bust of a child in a striped pinafore is characteristic of the many têtes d’expression that Greuze produced from the 1760s onwards, and that were a source of the tremendous popularity he enjoyed in his lifetime. Although these head studies could be somewhat mechanical and repetitive, the present example displays Greuze at his most tender and engaged. The image displays the artist’s deeply felt and well-observed ability to capture the seriousness and individual character of children. In her simple, rustic costume, the child appears pensive, as she gazes out of the picture frame. Painted with creamy, broad brushstrokes that reproduce the thick folds of her blouse and the coarse fabric of her dress and hat, the painting immerses the child in an atmosphere of warm, soft light and gentle, enveloping shadows. The beauty of Greuze’s handling of paint, his effortless mastery of anatomy and his profound insight into human emotion seemed something entirely new and remarkable to 18thcentury critics and public alike, more authentic and insightful than the works of any of his contemporaries.
The present painting dates from circa 1760 and is closely related to head studies that Greuze made for one of his multi-figural narrative masterpieces, The Marriage Contract (1761; Paris, Musée du Louvre), several of which the artist worked up into independent pictures, for example the Wool Winder in the Frick Collection, New York. It is easily comparable to the superb Bust of a Girl from the Andre Meyer collection (sold, Christie’s, New York, 26 October 2001, lot 27) and A Girl at a Parapet (sold, Christie’s, New York, 29 January 2014, lot 55), the same striped material appears in these two examples. It once formed part of the Beit collection (see lots 9, 38 and 39), and was hung by Sir Otto Beit next to his great Goya, Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland). Wilhelm von Bode, in his 1904 catalogue of the collection, praised the picture for its ‘unusually fine and almost vigorous tone-colour’ (op. cit.).