Jean-Baptiste Greuze
LOT SOLD. 1,082,500 USD
Jean-Baptiste Greuze
LOT SOLD. 1,082,500 USD

Details & Cataloguing

Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture

New York

Jean-Baptiste Greuze
TOURNUS 1725 - 1805 PARIS
inscribed lower left with the inventory number of the Kushelev-Bezborodko collection: 99
oil on canvas
44 1/2  by 58 in.;  113 by 147.5 cm.
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Louis Gabriel, Marquis de Véri Raionard (1722-1785), Paris;
His Estate sale, Paris, 12 December 1785, lot 21;
There purchased by the dealer, Alexandre Joseph Paillet (1743-1814), probably on behalf of Anne Pierre, Marquis de Montesquiou (1739-1798);
His sale, Paris, Hôtel de Lubert, Salle des ventes de Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun 9 December 1788 (and days following), lot 255;
Subsequently acquired by Count Alexander Andreevich Bezberodko (1746-1799), St. Petersburg;
Thence by inheritance to his brother, Count Il'ya Andreevich Bezborodko (1756-1815);
Thence by descent to his daughter, Lyubov, Countess Grigory Grigorevich Kushelev (1783-1809), St. Petersburg;
Thence by descent to her son, Count Grigory Grigorevich Kushelev-Bezborodko (1802-1855);
By whom bequeathed to his wife, Countess Grigory Grigorevich Kushelev-Bezborodko, née Ekaterina Dmitrievna Vasiltchikova (1811-1874);
By whom offered for sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 5 June 1869, lot 14 (where bought in);
Countess Grigorevich Kushelev-Bezborodko;
Her Estate sale, Paris, 18-19 March 1875, lot 15;
Comtesse de La Ferronnays, by 1885;
Her sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 12 April 1897, lot 12;
Possibly Baron de Précourt, by 1908;
Possibly J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), New York and London;
Mrs. Charles C. Griswold;
Presented by her in 1963 to the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey;
From whom acquired by the present owner in 1978.


Paris, Musée du Louvre, Exposition de tableaux, statues et objets d'arts au profit de l'oeuvre des Orphelins d'Alsace-Lorraine, 1885, cat. no. 240 (with the title Bénédiction de l'Ermite,lent by "Mme la comtesse de La Ferronays);
London, Royal Academy of Arts, France in the Eighteenth Century, 6 January - 3 March 1968, (cat. by D. Sutton), cat. no. 314;
Paris, Grand Palais; Detroit, Institute of Arts; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art,  De David à Delacroix: la peinture française de 1774 à 1830, 16 November 1974 - 7 September 1975, cat. no. 83 (entry by P. Rosenberg);
New York, Wildenstein, The Winds of Revolution, 14 November 1989 - 19 January 1990, cat. no. 13;
New York, Wildenstein, The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier: A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein's Presence in New York, 26 October 2005 - 6 January 2006, cat. no. 121.


J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, Vol. VIII, London 1837, p. 437, cat. no. 145;
R. Ménard, "Galerie Koucheleff," in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, I, June 1869, p. 484;
E. and J. de Goncourt, L'Art du dix-huitième siècle, Vol. I, Paris 1880, p. 350;
J. Martin and C. Masson, "Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de J.-B. Greuze," p. 11, no. 140, in C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paris n.d. (1905);
L. Réau, "Greuze et la Russie," in L'Art et les Artistes, Vol. I, 1920, p. 286;
E. Munhall, "Greuze and the Protestant Spirit," in Art Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, 1964, p. 19, note 6, reproduced p. 18, fig. 13;
Gazette des Beaux-Arts (supplément), Vol. LXIII, February 1964, p. 60, no. 204, reproduced;
A. Brookner, Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth Century Phenomenon, London 1972, pp. 116, 123-124, and 171, note 4, reproduced plate 64;
N. Bryson, Word and Images: French Painting of the Ancien Régime, Cambridge 1981, p. 140, reproduced fig. 63;
J. Edwards, Alexandre Joseph Paillet (1743-1814): Study of a Parisian Art Dealer, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1982, p. 219, Appendix A, p. 405 (transcription of catalogue entry at the de Véri sale), reproduced p. 324, fig. 147;
C.B. Bailey, "Le marquis de Véri collectionneur," in Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, 1983, p. 78, note 2 (with incorrect ownership);
Clermont-Ferrand, Musée Bargoin, Greuze & Diderot: vie familiale et éducation dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIème siècle, 1984, p. 121;
P. Rosenberg, in Fragonard, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1987, p. 506, cited under cat. no. 254, reproduced fig. 1;
R. Michel, in Le beau idéal, ou l'art du concept, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1989, pp. 36, 155, under cat. no. 16, note 6;
J. Thompson  and E. Fahy,  "Jean Baptiste Greuze," in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, XLVII, no. 3, Winter 1989/1990, pp. 6, 36, reproduced pp. 7, fig. 4 (detail), 37, fig. 32;
A. MacAdam, "Reviews: The Winds of Revolution, Wildenstein," in Art News, Vol. LXXXIX, No. 2, February 1990, p. 156;
J. Edwards, Expert et marchand de tableaux à la fin du XVIIIe siècle: Alexandre-Joseph Paillet, Paris 1996, pp. 181, 252 (with incorrect ownership), reproduced p. 181;
Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, La Donation Jacques Petithory au musée Bonnat, Bayonne: Objets d'art, sculptures, peintures, dessins, 1997-98, p. 208, cited under nos. 209-210 (entries by J.-F. Méjanes), reproduced p. 208, fig. 209.1;
J. Baillio, "A Hermit in a Garden" by Hubert Robert (1733-1808): A New Acquisition for The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, 2001, pp. 15-17, reproduced p. 16, fig. 6;
C.B. Bailey, Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris, New Haven and London 2002, pp. 119 and 278, note 91;
J. Baillio, in Renaissance to Rococo: Masterpieces from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, exhibition catalogue, Sarasota 2004, pp. 144 and 166, note 2, cited under cat. no. 54;
M.-A. Dupuy-Vachey, in Greuze et l'affaire du Septime Sévère, exhibition catalogue, Tournus 2005, p. 93, under cat. no. 57.

Henri Marais (born circa 1768), 1788 with a dedication to Abbé Joseph Alphonse de Véri (1724-1799), the brother of the painting's first owner, the Marquis de Véri (announced in the Mercure de France, September 1788, p. 95; for an illustration, see under Exhibited, New York, 2005-2006, p. 287, fig. 121a).

Catalogue Note

In a period of about ten years, beginning in 1775, Greuze painted some of his most ambitious and famous pictures, all “peinture morale” or as Munhall has described them, “moralizing genre paintings.”1 Among these The Hermit, or the Distributor of Rosaries, datable to about 1780, stands out because of its unusual subject matter and its illustrious provenance.  The picture was probably commissioned by the Marquis de Véri Raionard, one of the most important collectors of living French artists in the late 18th century.2  An engraving, in reverse, by Henri Marais of 1788 is dedicated to the Marquis’s brother, Abbé Joseph Alphonse de Véri, who most probably suggested the subject to Greuze, for it is more overtly religious and Catholic than most of the artist’s paintings.

The Hermit is set in a rocky landscape, where the central figure, an elderly Capuchin friar, sits distributing rosaries to large group of girls and young women.  Despite its being outdoors, the scene teems with figures crowded into a narrow space between a stream in the foreground and the higher ground behind.  The small patch of  sky at the right is dominated by a large, plain cross.  The girls are bringing food to the hermit – a basket of eggs, a live chicken – and in return he is giving them rosaries and votary medals, which he takes from a box held by a handsome young friar.  The girls are dressed in ordinary gowns, apart from the two closest to the hermit who are all in white; they are receiving rosaries from him in preparation for their confirmation. 

The theme is one of charity, generosity and virtue:  the young women are taking physical care of the hermit and he, in return, is giving them spiritual rewards.  The large number of figures involved in the narrative allow Greuze ample opportunity to do what he does best:  describe the physical and moral character of the actors in his drama.  In doing so he presents a series of opposites:  adolescence and old age, female and male, fair and grizzled.  The hermit, despite his age, is both spiritually and physically dominant.  He is a very large figure, who, if he were standing, would tower over the girls.  His hands are twice the size of those of the girl receiving the rosary and she submits obediently to his gesture.  In type the old man has little in common with the good but rather weak father figures in many of Greuze’s domestic dramas.  Instead his thick beard and downward gaze resemble those of Papinian, the powerful and virtuous Prefect of the Praetorian Guard in the morceau de réception that Greuze presented to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, Septimus Severus Reproaching Caracalla, of 1769, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.  Immediately next to the hermit kneels the delicate and somewhat effete young friar, and the contrast between the two could not be greater.  The girls who have come to visit the hermit range in age from about eight years old until well into adolescence.  Some are quite shy, some watch him with rapt attention, while others appear awestruck and almost frightened by him.  In the trio at the left, an element of coyness slips in as well, as the two companions drag the middle girl closer to the old friar.

Greuze made a number of preparatory drawings for the present work; one of the Hermit himself is preserved in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.  On the recto is a quickly but powerfully drawn study of the whole figure and on the verso a more detailed working out of the folds of his robe – though this was modified again in the finished work.  The picture is painted rather broadly, the pigment swiftly applied.  The background and most of the drapery is rather dark, but Greuze adds brighter flesh tones and lighter garments to add rhythm and focus.  The central point of the composition is the hermit reaching out to drape the rosary over the wrist of the waiting girl.   As James Thompson so aptly describes it, “she is the culminating cross in a living rosary of girls linked by limbs enacting extravagant expressions of emotion and affection.”3

 1.  See Literature, E. Munhall, 1964, p. 3.  He refers to Diderot's Salon of 1763, in which he implies that Greuze had created a new genre of painting. 
2.  See Literature, C.B. Bailey, 2002, p. 101.
3.  See Literature, J. Thompson, 1989/90, p. 36. 

Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture

New York