- Intimate Encounters, Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France
Intimate Encounters is both a catalog for a truly superb exhibition of French genre works, fifty-one paintings and twenty-five prints, as well as a collection of five essays. Well-known artists, including Chardin, Greuze, and Fragonard, are represented, together with several unknowns such as Henri-Nicolas Van Gorp and Michel Garnier. At the Hood Museum of Arts the works were beautifully installed with thoughtful juxtapositions and comparisons. In his essay, “Love, Domesticity, and the Evolution of Genre Painting in Eighteenth-Century France,” Rand, the exhibition’s organizer, reminds us that the term genre in that century had a much broader definition than it has today. As Diderot wrote in Notes on Painting: “The appellation ‘genre painter’ is indiscriminately applied to painters of flowers, fruit, animals, woods, forests, and mountains, as well as to those borrowing their scenes from everyday domestic life: Teniers, Wouvermans, Greuze, Chardin, Loutherbourg, and even Vernet are all considered genre painters” (3). Within this expanded definition, he has included paintings by Watteau and Pater and even portraits, such as Vincent’s Portrait of a Mother and Child (no. 39) and L.-M. Van Loo’s Portrait of the Devin Family (no. 33). The actors in these works, aristocrats and peasants, young and old, perform acts of labor (washing laundry, peeling vegetables, carpentry work) as well as acts of leisure (picnicking, bathing, hunting). Indeed, the word “leisure” should have been incorporated into the title since some scenes show neither love nor domesticity, such as Natoire’s The Rest by a Fountain (no. 15) and Pater’s The Bathers (no. 8). Although most images picture “the agreeable” (ix), as characterized by the Goncourts, a few focus on more distressing events: the return of a drunken father/husband in Greuze’s The Drunken Cobbler (no. 31) and a dying child in Drolling’s Peasants in a Rustic Interior (no. 47). Appropriately rendered in somber earth tones, these contrast with paintings such as de Troy’s The Declaration of Love (no. 9) and The Garter (no. 10), meticulously painted in brilliant, glowing colors. The precise facture of de Troy further contrasts with the fluid brush strokes of Fragonard (The Useless Resistance [no. 24]) and Hubert Robert [End Page 523] (Laundress and Child [no. 32]). Both styles, Rand remarks, were associated with the feminine. “An art that privileged detail, tactility, and coloristic effects was inevitably derided as ‘feminine’” and “likened to traditionally feminine pursuits such as sewing and needlework”(8). Simultaneously, the sensual brushwork of Fragonard and Boucher was deemed “a kind of painterly libertinage” (10).
Rand’s essay investigates the criticism of genre, its popularity at the salon and amongst collectors, genre and femininity, and Greuze and moralizing genre. He begins by justifying the inclusion of portraits with a discussion of F.-H. Drouais’s Family Portrait and its “incorporations of the forms and even the meanings of genre painting”(4). At the Hood Museum, “the meld of genres”(3) was well demonstrated in Van Loo’s Portrait of the Devin Family, its proximity to Marguerite Gérard’s The Happy Household (no. 43) emphasizing the affinity between the two. It might be added that this amalgamation of genre and portraiture continued in portraits of the 1790s, as in François Gérard’s Portrait of C. . . and his Family (Musée de Versailles, sketch).
Reviewing the critical reception of genre and history painting, Rand focuses on Greuze in the last section and suggests that Greuze presented the viewer with a “new construct of woman as a moral center” (14) in works such as The Drunken Cobbler (no. 31). After briefly examining Aubry’s work, well represented in the exhibition, he considers Boilly’s work as continuing the tradition established by Greuze, with...