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Oil painting - Innocence: A Girl with a Dove
  • Innocence: A Girl with a Dove
    Greuze, Jean-Baptiste, born 1725 - died 1805
  • Enlarge image

Innocence: A Girl with a Dove

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (painted)

  • Date:

    Before 1795 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Greuze, Jean-Baptiste, born 1725 - died 1805 (painter (artist))
    Greuze, Anne-Geneviève, born 1762 - died 1842

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) was born in Tournus in the Burgundy region not far from Lyon. He first trained in the late 1740s with the successful portrait painter Charles Grandon (c. 1691-1762)in Lyon and became an associate member of the Paris Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1755. specialised in genre scenes, portraits and studies of expressive heads (têtes d'expression). He achieved a rapid success and was praised by Denis Diderot, who wrote about him in the Salon reviews but towards the end of his life, his reputation declined.

This painting was probably made by one of Greuze's female pupils, and most likely by his own daughter Anne-Geneviève who took over her father's taste for depicting expressive heads. This painting shows a young girl holding a dove against her breast, a composition that is sometimes interpreted as an allegory of innocence.

Physical description

Bust-length portrait of a young child holding a dove against her breast with an atmospheric landscape in the background; she has dark curly hair, wears a red and ochre dress and mantle and is looking towards left.

Place of Origin

Paris (painted)


Before 1795 (painted)


Greuze, Jean-Baptiste, born 1725 - died 1805 (painter (artist))
Greuze, Anne-Geneviève, born 1762 - died 1842

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 41.8 cm estimate, Width: 34.2 cm estimate

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Jones, 1882

Historical significance: This painting was probably executed by one of the immediate followers of Jean-Baptiste Greuze who used to imitate his style and replicate his compositional formulas. The painting shows a young girl holding a dove against her breast with an atmospheric landscape in the background. Although this painting bears stylistic characteristics of Greuze's art, it has a delicate softness and an innocent sentimentality that appears foreign to Greuze (A. Laing, verbal opinion, Nov. 2010) but may be referred to his female pupils, either his daughter, Anne-Geneviève Greuze (1762-1842) or Jeanne-Philiberte Ledoux (1767-1840). Unfortunately their oeuvre is not very well known and only a few paintings have survived. That being said, some paintings by Anne-Geneviève bear some similarities with 585-1882, especially the Child with a Doll, Louvre, Paris (R.F. 1524) which shows a very similar child and some light effects in the background.
The delicate colours echo the intimate subject of the painting: a young girl holding a dove against his breast with a landscape at dusk in the background. This subdued palette allows the landscape to enhance the dreamy expression of the sitter. The dove is usually the attribute of innocence and pure love, and some similar compositions were sometimes interpreted as the allegory of innocence.
This painting is a good example of Jean-Baptiste Greuze's influence in the technique and the genre of the sentimental portraits he somehow created.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
Portrait paintings were still fashionable during the following centuries and extended to the rising bourgeoisie and eventually to common people, especially during the social and political transformations of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, painted portraits were challenged and eventually supplanted by the development of new media such as photography.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Innocence: a Girl with a Dove', follower of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, probably painted by Anne-Geneviève Greuze, before 1795

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: 1973, pp. 138-9, cat. no. 159.
B. Long, Catalogue of the ]ones Collection, London: 1923, p. 20, pl. 21.
French paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: 1949, pl. 15.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Figures (representations); Child; Dove




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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