Jean-Baptiste Greuze was the most influential genre painter of the later eighteenth-century. From the 1760s, he was one of the most famous artists internationally, a status that he almost completely lost in the twentieth century. recent research has re-established his crucial position in international eighteenth-century art.
Born on 21 August 1725 in Tournus in Burgundy, where he first learned, he then studied under Charles Grandon at Lyon before moving c. 1750 to Paris. He studied at the Academy, where he was accepted as candidate (agréé) in 1755 as 'peintre de genre particulier' (i. e. not a history painter). In the same year, he exhibited first at the Salon where he became a great favourite of the public and critics alike over the following years. In 1755 his patron Louis Gougenot, abbé de Chezal-Benôit, took him to Italy where he stayed until 1757, returning in time to show celebrated Italian genre scenes (and P419) at the Salon of that year.
The following years saw Greuze's meteoric rise to fame. Diderot first mentioned the painter in his Salon of 1759. In the same year, Greuze married Anne-Gabrielle Babut, a relationship that proved highly problematic and was dissolved in 1793. In 1761, Greuze exhibited his most successful painting ever, 'L'Accordée de village (The marriage contract)' that he had painted for the Marquis de Marigny. This work codified his new genre of the moralist genre painting reflecting new middle-class values Greuze became famous for (core family, sentimental love, work ethic). He expressed the new ideals in painting shortly before they were expressed by Rousseau and other writers of the generation.
Greuze's public position changed when he was reminded by the Academy in 1767 to hand in his reception piece the subject of which was unusually left open. As an unexpected decision, he chose a history scene, 'Septimius Severus Reproaching Caracalla'. The Accademy only accepted him as a genre painter squashing Greuze's ambition to be received as a history painter and full member. Both the Academy and the critics did not consider Greuze apt for the grand genre. As a result of the scandal, Greuze did not exhibited at the Salon again until the Revolution, but only in 1800, 1801 and 1804. Instead, he joined other exhibitions like the Salon de la Correspondance and staged private shows. His international fame continued, and he worked for a wide range of important patrons. Although he was highly regarded, his style fell increasingly out of fashion, and Greuze and his workshop produced increasing numbers of expressive heads that were commercially viable, particularly well represented at the Wallace Collection. Greuze died in Paris on 21 March 1805.