Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Jean-Baptiste Greuze was a French portraitist who became known for staging scenes of everyday life on a dramatic and grand scale, painting them as though they were epic historical scenes. Many such works are now in prestigious collections such as the Met and the Louvre. His portraiture was notable for his direct and vivid depiction of his sitters. He often painted his friends and other artists, the present work included.

Jeanne-Philiberte Ledoux came to Greuze to train as a painter. As his pupil, she gained success imitating his subject matter, exhibiting her head studies of young, beautiful women and children in the Paris Salons from 1793 to 1819. Ledoux became one of the leading female artists of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, a fact made ever more significant by the rarity of women who dared venture into a public profession during that time.

In this portrait, executed circa 1790, Greuze captured Ledoux’s open expression and small, familiar smile as she gazes directly at the man who helped launch her career. She is dressed in the popular classical Greek style and holds a garland of blue flowers near her cheek. The intricate folds of her dress and the fabric of the robe draped loosely about her shoulders are detailed precisely in dry brushstrokes, a perfect characterization of his work in the genre during the last decade of the 18th century.