The Dreamer


Jean-Baptiste Greuze ( French, 1725 - 1805 )

c. 1765–1769
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General Description

“The Dreamer” is one of five extant canvases, each a variation on a theme, produced by Jean-Baptiste Greuze as early as 1765 and likely throughout the next forty years of his career. The “original” model, according to art critic Denis Diderot and persistently so identified in more recent secondary literature, was Greuze’s then-comely wife, Anne-Gabrielle Babuti; the daughter of a bookseller, she came to fully occupy the artist’s imagination as his favorite muse for the first seven years of their marriage. Although Greuze’s frequent use of Madame Greuze as a model was commented upon by critics especially during the 1760s when Greuze’s reputation was on the ascent, the artist’s constant repetition of this compositional formula well into his late career ultimately erodes any portrait-like specificity. In the end, the question of how to categorize Greuze’s expressive heads of attractive young women—whether as fantasy figures, as studies of actual studio models, or as members of his family—is important because these paintings continually beg the question in the first place. Greuze’s most successful “types,” knowingly propagated by the artist through strategic repetition in exhibited sketches, pastels, and reproductive prints, are the eighteenth-century equivalent of successful modern-day actors and actresses. We recognize them as “real” people, and easily disengage their features from any given role. Adapted from Eik Kahng, "Greuze's ‘The Dreamer’: Portrait, Tronie, or Fantasy Figure?," in “French Art of the Eighteenth Century: The Michael L. Rosenberg Lecture Series at the Dallas Museum of Art,” ed. Heather MacDonald (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art and the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 2016), 125–40.