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ART REVIEW; Frivolity before the revolution; A National Gallery show of 18th century French painters hints at historic changes ahead.
Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.
Subjects: Visual artists; Art exhibits -- -Multiple review
Author: Meisler, Stanley
Date: Oct 21, 2003
Start Page: E.1
Section: Calendar; Part E; Calendar Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

[Jean-Baptiste Greuze], a generation younger than [Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin], was born in the Burgundy region but studied in Paris. He started as a history painter but soon found that genre painting offered greater rewards. He was much more moralistic than Chardin and soon became a hero to the writers of the Enlightenment. [Denis Diderot], the novelist, Encyclopedia editor and father of art criticism, once wrote: "I really like this Greuze fellow.... To begin with, genre appeals to me; it is moral painting.... Take heart, Greuze, my friend, and practice morality in painting."

There is no doubt that he did. The exhibition has 11 works by Greuze (more than those by [Jean-Antoine Watteau] and almost as many as those by Chardin), and the moralistic tone is obvious. Unlike the healthy, ordered and satisfied servants of Chardin, Greuze's servants can be slovenly, brought down by their sins, as in the painting "Indolence." His scenes demonstrate the strength and warmth of family life, whether the family is portrayed in celebration ("The Marriage Contract") or caught in adversity ("Filial Piety").

[Jean-Honore Fragonard], who came from Grasse in southern France, is the most represented artist in the exhibition, with 15 paintings, including a pair worked with his sister-in-law, Marguerite Gerard. Fragonard did not continue the moralizing of Greuze but returned to the fashionable and amorous world of Watteau, a painter who died before Fragonard was born. Fragonard, according to [Philip Conisbee], created "the most celebrated erotic images of the century," and these scenes were sought by wealthy collectors. Madame Louise d'Epinay, the hostess of a well-known Paris salon, dismissed him as a painter who "wastes his time and talent earning money," but his paintings have remained popular for more than two centuries.

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