• France, Private Collection.
Pastoral theater was one of the creations of the 18th century taste for gallantry. At the time of Callot and Watteau, public theter was still only vulgar mass entertainment descended from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte which was played on provisory stage sets during the fairs of Saint-Germain and Saint-Laurent. Already in mid-century, however, François Boucher was inspired by a new type of refined spectacle, especially the plays of Charles-Simon Favart (1710-1792) such as The Tempé Grape Harvest of 1745. In the 1740s, in fact, Favart began to exploit a new tack in which he aroused the audience’s feelings and made people laugh through the touching ingenuity of rustic protagonists, rather than through their stupidity or naivety. He didn’t hesitate to copy plots from grand opera. Under Favart, Arcadia peopled by Climenes and Palemons [names of classical French characters] gave way to a French countryside where Lisettes and Colins were in love. An incomparable actress and dancer, Marie Justine Favart, the dramatist’s wife, was not only the first to abandon the outlandish costumes and grotesque pantomines in favor of more realistic outfits and gestures, but also composed several comic operas. The most famous, including Les Amours de Bastien et Bastienne in 1753 and La Fille Mal Gardée of 1758, met with extraordinary success.
In this repertory of sophisticated intrigue, rebounds, ruses, indiscretion, and amorous torments, Boucher and his emulators could draw on novel situations and scenic arrangements which spectators, used to theater, enjoyed recognizing. Sometimes moralizing, sometimes libertine, these pastoral scenes best flourished in little narrative cycles, such as overdoors and series of engravings or drawings. Thus the gouaches of the Amours champêtres presented by Pierre-Antoine Baudouin at the Salons of 1765 and 1767 with evocative titles: The Thatched Roof Cottage where the Mother Surprises her Daughter on a Bale of Straw, The Lover’s Visit, or A Young Girl Scolded by her Mother. Certain works by Baudouin clearly declared their theatrical source, such as Rose and Colas, after a play by Sedaine and Monsigny produced at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in 1764.
Our two charming little pendants belong to the same genre of theatricalized pastorals. The first shows a young woman with messy clothes and hair trying to hold back her lover. He, too, is overcome by sadness. Details yield more information on the tender relationship between the two shepherds: two small dogs, roses in a vase, a guitar with a broken string, blue and pink ribbons decorating the straw hat and shepherd’s staff. The second oval stages the same shepherdess clothed in crimson silk. Her eyebrows lowering, she glares angrily at her old mother who is wearing wooden clogs and boiling the laundry. As in its pendant, several eloquent elements explain the reasons for this quarrel: an open cage from which a little bird escapes, a barking dog, and a rose thrown to the ground.
Each oil painting is conceived as a miniature stage, with falsely rustic sets which contrast with the elegant attire of the actor-protagonists. They remain, however, profoundly unified by their subjects, the equilibrium between forms, the color distribution – on the left, mainly light blue and ochre, while carnation and creamy whites are on the right – as well as by the many more or less scholarly allusions, such as the myth of Vertumnus and Pomona.
The delicate coloring, finesse of the brushstrokes, and the porcelain finish can be explained by the fact that the author of our works, Jacques Larue, from Lorrain, was above all a miniaturist. Thanks to a census during the Revolution in Nancy, Year IV (1785), we know he was born in 1739 because he declared he was forty-six years old. Son of Jean-Louis Larue, butcher-merchant, he had a little-used nickname Mansion derived from his father-in-law, the painter André Mansion.
Larue was trained under Jean Girardet (1709-1778), painter to King Stanislas and then to Queen Marie Leszczynska, who was a patient ardent teacher whose Lunéville studio served as an Academy. With the miniaturist François Dumont, the landscapist Jean-Baptiste Claudot, the history painter Joseph Laurent, and the still life painter Dominique Pergaut, Larue counted among Girardet’s best disciples. He worked in oil and miniature, and seems to have constituted a loyal clientele in Nancy. The painter was one of the few artists from Lorraine to sign the petition of September 2nd, 1792 to save the statue of the Louis XV on the Place Royale in Nancy.
Of the three children he had with Elisabeth Claude, two were trained in the studio and became respected miniaturists: Marie-Catherine (born 1768) and Leon-André (1785-after 1848). The latter, who signed the most often as Mansion, pursued his education in Paris under Jean-Baptiste Isabey, who was himself one of Larue’s former students, and had a brilliant career.
Our pendants reveal a little known facet of Jacques Larue whose identified corpus only consists of a few rare signed portraits and still lifes. In our works, his sensitivity to the art at Versailles and Paris can be seen, as well as his awareness of creations by Boucher, Greuze, and Baudouin which were broadly distributed through engravings. Simultaneously paintings and miniatures, our canvasses also bring out the refined taste of collectors in Nancy.