Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jean-Baptiste Greuze - The Village Bride

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Village Bride, 1761
(Musee du Louvre)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze's (1725-1805) moralizing and sentimental paintings, appealed to the bourgeois of mid 18th century Paris who resented the aristocracy's moral decadence and impervious attitude towards the rest of the country and Greuze himself was deduced to be the artist to end the debasement of French Art.  Greuze especially received high praise from the critic Diderot because he saw a connection between Greuze's paintings and his own plays on the drame bourgeois (bourgeois drama based on the life and problems of the middle-classes.)  The entwined hands of the engaged couple in The Village Bride, especially appealed to the Salon-goers since it represented the sentiments of the middle classes of a marriage based on love instead of convenience, money or titles like that of the upper classes.

This narrative painting reminiscent of Dutch genre paintings, depicts the moment of the exchange of the dowry from the father into the bridegroom's hand that is being recorded by the public notary and being witnessed by the whole family.  The most important focal point is in the middle with the hands exchanging the money. The father is the only one speaking while the rest of the family are rendered displaying different emotions with gestures as part of little vignettes throughout the painting.   The contemporary viewer would be able to make a direct connection with the unfolding drama.

Greuze had taken classes at the Academy before going to Italy with his patron for two years. He submitted The Village Bride, to the Salon of 1771 on his return from Rome.  Although the style and subject matter are quite the opposite of what was mostly being shown at the Salon, Greuze applied the concepts he had learned at the Academy to this painting.  

All the elements of the Village Bride,demonstrate the genuine, loving environment of a family with humble means.  A stark but clean and orderly household is set before us in a shallow, stage-like setting.  The bread stocked up on the shelf at the top of the painting, alludes to the father's success at providing for his family.  Using the pyramidal shape that was taught at the Academy, the painting is divided into two distinct spaces - the male side on the right and the female side on the left of the canvas.  There is a little boy placed along with the females who may be too young to belong on the male sphere and an ambigous female standing behind the father who could be an older sister not sharing the same sentiment as the rest of the females in the family or a servant who has come in from the outside.  The female sphere is emphasized with the curving line moving through connecting the figures all the way up to the middle of the painting while the male sphere is accentuated with straight lines and geometric elements that can be picked up on the documents, the tricorne hat of the notary as well as the chairs they are sitting on . The separation is also accomplished with the placement of the females as nurturers from the mother holding her daughter's hand to the chicken with its hens in the foreground and even the little girl feeding those chickens alluding to learning her future role. While the feelings and roles of the females are put on display on left of the painting, cultural tendencies of the males are displayed through the exchange of money, recording of the exchange and the curious look of the little boy who almost looks like he is examining the public notary's notes.

Although the Village Bride which appears to be a social commentary, feels far removed from the pastel, fluffy, sensuous painting style of the rococo period, it still retains rococo elements that can be noted in the treatment of the clothing of the females while at the same time introducing geometric elements on the male side attesting to Greuze's role as a link between rococo and Neoclassicism. 

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