The Wallace Collection

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  • Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725 - 1805)
  • Ariadne
  • France
  • c. 1803 - 1804
  • Painting
  • Oil on mahogany panel
  • Image size: 49 x 42.8 cm
  • P421
  • Reserve Gallery
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.
    This painting links a head study with a mythological subject. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (VIII, 169-82), Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, helped Theseus to slay the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth, only to be abandoned by him on the island of Naxos. Bacchus rescued her, took her jewelled crown and threw it into the heavens, where it became a constellation. He married her soon afterwards. Ariadne in Greuze’s picture is characteristically shown lamenting her lost love before being comforted by the new. Her crown of stars may refer to the constellation named after her as well as to the divine nature of love. A late work, loose in handling and exaggerated in expression, it may be identified with the Ariane dans l’île de Naxos exhibited at the Salon of 1804.