Lot 19
  • 19


120,000 - 150,000 EUR
bidding is closed


  • Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié
  • The Obedient Dog
  • 54 x 59,3 cm ; 21 1/4 by 23 1/3 in.
Oil on canvas ; signed and dated Lépicié / 1772 toward centre left


- Pépin-Lehalleur Estate


- Paris, Salon of 1773, n°31


- E. Bellier de la Chavignerie et L. Auvray, Dictionnaire général des artistes des Ecoles Françaises depuis l'origine des Arts du dessin jusqu'à nos jours, Paris, 1881, t. I, p. 1013
- P.-S. Dupont de Nemours, « Lettres de Du Pont de Nemours à la margrave Caroline-Louise de Bade sur les Salons de 1773, 1777, 1779 », dans Nouvelles Archives de l'Art français, Nogent-le-Roi, 1908 (1909), t. II, p. 25
- Ph. Gaston Dreyfus, Catalogue, oeuvre posthume de l'œuvre de Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié (1735-1784), nl, nd, n°43
- Ph. Gaston Dreyfus, "Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint et dessiné de Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié (1735-1784)", Le Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'art français, Paris, 1923, n°167
- P. Etienne, Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié (1735-1784). Etat des connaissances et apports nouveaux, Mémoire de Maïtrise, Paris, 1997, Annexes, n°167

Catalogue Note

The subject of childhood was certainly one of the most notable among those themes that saw significant renewed interest during the eighteenth century, dovetailing with the ideas of the Enlightenment philosopher Rousseau. In the field of painting, Chardin and Greuze were among the first to embrace the subject.

There is no question that next to these two artists, Lépicié was one of the artists most skilled in taking advantage of the theme to produce an art that was original, attractive, sincere and compelling.

However, Lépicié’s first ambition was the grand genre of history painting, and he produced many fine examples of this throughout his career. Son of the engraver François-Bernard Lépicié and pupil of Carle Van Loo, he pursued the path of a history painter, and it was as such that he was admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1769, becoming a professor there in 1777. But although at no point in his career did he abandon history painting, it was in genre painting that he really came into his own, as many contemporary art critics observed.

Taking his subjects from ordinary life and often finding them in the most impoverished classes of French society at the time – beggars, poachers, Savoyard immigrants – Lépicié succeeded in attaining an authenticity in the tone and manner of his works that set him apart from the classic picturesque genre with its elements of burlesque or melodrama.

There are clear links to Flemish and Dutch painting of the Golden Age: contemporary commentators on Lépicié’s œuvre remark on this, admiring the manner with which the painter reinterpreted the art of David Teniers the Younger, with his touches of realism, his thickly applied yet delicate palette, and his muted yet silvery colours, as described by one of the critics of the 1773 Salon – where, in fact, Lépicié exhibited the present painting.

Lépicié brought these talents and his distinctive focus to bear on this world of childhood that had become so important in the second half of the century. The innocence, freshness and simplicity of children’s gestures inspired him over and over again (The Penitent Child, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon; The Young Draughtsman, Paris, Musée du Louvre, among others).

The present painting is an unaffected portrayal of a moment in the daily life of a young Savoyard, one of the many who poured onto the streets of Paris during the eighteenth century, offering their services for meagre reward. It is a moment of rest. The boy has put down his toolbox (probably shoeblack’s equipment, such as that in a drawing by Lépicié now in the Louvre, fig. 1), and sits on the stone base of a wall, about to eat a crust of bread while his dog brings him his hat. 

The apparently anecdotal quality of the work gives way to a kind of unsentimental tenderness, a faithful observation, unmarked by moral judgement or miserabilism, of a child’s compassion towards the – slightly crafty – loyalty of his animal companion. The dog is certainly fulfilling a service for him, but no doubt hopes for a reward: the small piece of bread that the young boy has already cut from the crust and is holding in his right hand.

Lépicié painted The Obedient Dog in 1772 and exhibited it in the 1773 Salon, along with another painting in the same vein, Self-interested Courtesy (fig. 2), which also portrays a little Savoyard with his dog, this time sitting up and begging before his master, with the same aim of receiving a morsel to eat.

With justification, Dupont de Nemours – who described the two paintings in his literary and artistic correspondence with the Margravine Caroline Louise de Bade – noted the ‘air of goodness and truth’ in the two little Savoyards that the artist exhibited together at the Salon. The smile and tender gaze of this young boy, painted with striking naturalism, seems like a momentary ray of light in his hard day’s labour.

Avoiding all dramatic or miserabilist intent, Lépicié’s work prefigures the realism that was to come in artists such as Courbet or Millet, presenting the viewer with a little work of art expressing sincere emotion, free from any ulterior motive.