The Art of Daily Life in the France of Yesteryear

Daily life is at the center of this exhibition of 18th-century French painting opening on June 14 at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

In the 18th century, France’s powerful Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture dictated a strict hierarchy of subject matter, with historical, mythological, and religious scenes at the top, followed by portraiture, landscape, genre, and still life. Today, however, the “lowlier” subjects often resonate more with viewers lacking the knowledge to identify and contextualize battle scenes or biblical references. Genre pictures have the charm of offering a window onto everyday life in a bygone era. The Sweetness of Life: Three 18th-Century French Paintings from The Frick Collection, which opens this month at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, makes that point exquisitely.

The title works represent three of the finest artists of their day: François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, and Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Boucher’s A Lady on Her Day Bed (1743) nods playfully at Renaissance depictions of the goddess of love, hence its nickname, “Untidy Venus.” Influenced by 17th-century Dutch painting, Chardin’s serene Lady with a Bird-Organ (ca. 1753) shows a woman cranking a serinette to teach a melody to a canary (serin). Finally, in Greuze’s Wool Winder (ca.1759), a young servant looks on placidly as a playful cat disrupts the task at hand. The three canvases’ temporary home is the museum’s 18th-century Rococo gallery, in the company of other Chardins and Bouchers, as well as paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon-Chardin0-Lady-with-a Bird-Organ-la-Serinette

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Lady with a Bird-Organ, ca. 1753. © The Frick Collection



Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Wool Winder, ca. 1759. © The Frick Collection

The Sweetness of Life: Three 18th-Century French Paintings from The Frick Collection
From June 14 through September 9, 2019
Norton Simon Museum
Pasadena, California

Article published in the June 2019 issue of France-Amérique


  • Fashion & Faith: James Tissot in San FranciscoFashion & Faith: James Tissot in San Francisco A new exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor invites audiences to reassess the multifaceted oeuvre of James Tissot — or discover it for the first time. The 19th-century artist James […] Posted in Culture, Art
  • JR: The Chronicles of San FranciscoJR: The Chronicles of San Francisco In his latest project, on display at SFMOMA through 2020, the French artist JR dedicates a 100-foot digital mural to the city of San Francisco and its many residents. JR, 36, has come a […] Posted in Culture, Art