French painting

Portrait of the engraver Georges Wille

Jean-Baptiste Greuze
Tournus, 1725 - Paris, 1805

1763, oil on canvas, 59 x 49 cm

This portrait painted by Jean-Baptiste Greuze depicts the engraver Georges Wille. Of German origin, Wille settled for good in Paris in 1736. A member of the Royal Academy and foreign academies, his workshop was the meeting-point for artists from around Europe.
When Georges Wille met Jean-Baptiste Greuze, he asked him to paint his portrait. The portrait was finished in six sittings. While one might have expected an indulgent effigy, an image likely to satisfy the expectations of the commissioner, here is a portrait of unexpected intensity, a real painting with psychological density, pictorial brilliance and an air of mystery that adds that special little something.
It also aroused enthusiasm at the Salon which was the annual exhibition for the Fine Arts. The most convincing critique came from Diderot: “A very beautiful portrait. That is the brusque and hard air of Wille; that is his stiff neck; those are his little eyes, ardent and alarmed; those are his blotched cheeks. Look how his hair is done! What beautiful drawing! What proud strokes! What truth and variety of tones! And the creation of the velvet, and the jabot, and the cuffs! I would take pleasure in seeing this portrait alongside a Rubens, a Rembrandt or a Van Dyck. When one has laid eyes on this Wille, one turns one’s back to the portraits of the others.”

Greuze is not as well-known for his portraits, of which this one is the finest, as for his sentimental or moralising scenes, such as The Paternal Curse, The Punished Son or The Broken Jug which assured him success.

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