The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Innocence
  • Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725 - 1805)
  • Innocence
  • France
  • before 1794
  • Painting
  • Oil on mahogany panel
  • Image size: 63 x 53 cm, oval
  • P384
  • Boudoir
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • Like many painters, Greuze had produced studies of individual heads as drawings and in oil from early in his career. Some of them were nature studies, others specifically prepared figures in his larger narrative paintings. From the late 1770s, these 'expressive heads' developed into a separate genre, often erotically charged, and into a main field of his activities. Greuze's heads exist in large numbers, and he developed them more systematically after he had fallen out with the Academy. Many of them were executed by studio members, and there are general questions of attribution concerning the group.
    Greuze expressed his periods interest in strong emotions and sentiments. Expressive heads had a long tradition in France, starting from the teachings of Charles Lebrun who, in 1668, had proposed to codify the expression of specific passions in an Academy lecture. His teachings were published in 1698. Many of Greuze's heads directly refer to Lebrun's models, others develop expressions independently. Here, Greuze refers to Lebrun's expression of 'Tranquilité'.
    In addition to its religious connotations, the lamb in Western art is seen as an attribute of Innocence, Gentleness, Patience and Humility. By including a lamb in the present picture, Greuze thus invests his beautiful young subject with the same connotations. The painting later attained notoriety because of the high price paid for it by the 4th Marquess of Hertford reflecting the high esteem Greuze's work was held in before it became unfashionable in the twentieth century. It has been extensively copied in many media. In the collection of Charles-Nicolas Duclos-Dufresnoy, it was paired with the earlier 'Boy with a Dog' (P419).