Boucher, Chardin, Greuze, Watteau—all were active in France during the long reign of King Louis XV, from 1715 to 1774. The paintings in this room represent the range of stylistic choices made by French eighteenth-century artists striving to succeed within the ranks of the influential academy of painting and sculpture and to satisfy the demands of wealthy patrons decorating their homes. One of France’s most prominent patrons was the king’s official mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, for whom Boucher painted the Four Seasons. These depictions of seasonal splendor were probably made as over doors, decorative paintings installed high in a room, above doorways, for one of Madame de Pompadour’s residences.
Chardin offers a different vision of French painting with sensitively observed, meditative works like the Still Life with Plums. Greuze, instead, presents an ideal of feminine innocence with his Wool Winder, highlighting the young girl’s interiority in a way that recalls seventeenth-century Dutch genre scenes by artists like Vermeer, which were very popular in France in the eighteenth century. Consider her pensive expression—what thoughts are distracting her from her winding?
The earliest of the paintings in this room, Watteau’s Portal of Valenciennes, might be seen, from a modern perspective, as a sort of reality check. A quiet portrayal of soldiers, some seemingly standing guard, it hardly celebrates the glory and heroism of war, instead offering a glimpse into the human element, as men attempt to converse and rest, one slumping, lost in thought, at the base of a cracked wall.