This exceptional -- and immaculately preserved -- depiction of a beautiful young woman en déshabillé, loosened hair cascading around her bared shoulders, lips parted, head tossed back ecstatically, communicates an intense sense of awakening eroticism beneath its lusciously painted surface. Such bust-length 'têtes d'expression' were a favourite subject of Greuze and were widely sought after by his contemporaries. They were also among the first 18th-century French paintings to return to favour with the mid-19th century renaissance of interest in the art of the Ancien Régime. More than a few sophisticated collectors of the 1860s and 1870s would have recognised parallels between Greuze's sensual paintings and avant-garde works by the most advanced artists of their own day, not least Gustave Courbet; others found in them the opulence and romance of a bygone era. Along with the fourth Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870), whose extensive holdings of classic 18th-century French paintings form the heart of the Wallace Collection, members of the Rothschild family were the most avid collectors of earlier French paintings in the second half of the 19th century. The present canvas, known as Innocence, was acquired by Mathilde de Rothschild (1852-1924), and is one of the many paintings by Greuze purchased by members of her family in this era, often for very large sums of money.
This unpublished work, which Edgar Munhall has described (in correspondence) as 'spectacular', bears certain similarities in pose and expression to another canvas entitled Innocence (catalogued as no. 470 by Martin and Masson in C. Mauclaire, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paris, 1906). However, the Champalimaud painting is more finely drawn and more vigorously executed than that painting (whose location is today unknown). Rather, as Munhall has noted, 'in its remarkably bravura rendering of hair and drapery' the present canvas resembles more a work entitled La Volupté. Like La Volupté (also known as The Dreamer, a highly eroticised image of Greuze's wife and model, Anne-Gabriel Babuti, that is today in the Michael L. Rosenberg Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art), the far more chaste Innocence is dated by Munhall to around 1765. A drawing in the École Nationale de Beaux-Arts of about the same date, seems to Munhall related to the present canvas as well - a model with a similarly ecstatic expression, a similar blouse pulled down to expose one shoulder, and a comparable scarf encircling the neck.