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Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805)

'Silence!' 1759

Oil on canvas | 62.2 x 50.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405080

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  • The painting was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1759 with the title: ‘A Painting representing Rest, characterized by a Woman who obliges her son to be silent by pointing to her other sleeping children’. It was lent by one of Greuze’s leading patrons, Jean de Jullienne, who was the close friend, leading collector and promoter of the artist Antoine Watteau. The picture is a highly characteristic example of Greuze’s art, and although it did not receive overwhelming praise from the critics, in 1787 it was described in the catalogue of the Vaudreuil sale as having 'fait le plus grand honneur à l'artiste'. Silence! depicts a young mother imploring her dishevelled son to stop blowing his toy trumpet while her other children are sleeping. It seems he may also have been responsible for breaking the drum, on the back of the chair on the right. A painting of a similar size, entitled The Spoiled Child (St Petersburg, Hermitage Museum) may have been intended as a pendant. In contrast with the reproving mother represented in Silence! the mother indulges the little boy, allowing him to feed his meal to the dog, while she watches. The themes depicted in paintings by Greuze often reflect the attitudes in eighteenth-century France to motherhood and the upbringing of children as described in contemporary literature. Through engravings Greuze’s work achieved considerable fame, and his influence can be seen in nineteenth-century British art. There are a number of preparatory drawings for Silence! The composition is apparently inspired by a painting by Nicholaes Maes, ‘The sleeping Knitter’, which Greuze might have known through an engraving. A drawing by Greuze of a boy, possibly connected with the figure on the left, was sold at Christie's, 4th July 1984 (L 120). A head study dated 1759, in the Frick Collection, is related to the infant on the right. A chalk study of the same figure, full length in his chair, is in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. A miniature copy of the painting, signed CV, was sold at Sotheby's, 26th Nov 1973.
    Provenance

    Acquired by George IV in 1817

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    62.2 x 50.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    60.3 x 49.5 cm (support (etc), excluding additions)

    78.5 x 68.4 x 5.8 cm (frame, external)