Jean-Baptiste Greuze achieved fame for his morally uplifting narrative paintings, but he was equally adept working in the pastoral, erotic mode brought to refinement by François Boucher. In 1756, while sojourning in Rome, Greuze received support from the Marquis de Marigny, who commissioned from him two oval paintings for the Versailles apartment of his sister Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV, leaving the choice of subject to the artist. Greuze painted La Simplicité, a girl pulling the petals off a daisy in a ritual of “he loves me, he loves me not.” Despite the importance of the commission, Greuze did not hasten to finish the paintings.
La Simplicité took about three years to produce, and its pendant, Young Shepherd Holding a Flower (Petit Palais, Paris), showing a boy holding a dandelion and pensively making a wish for his love to be reciprocated, was not delivered until 1761.
The romantic sentiment and decorative style of La Simplicité are typical of French court painting of the ancien régime. Skillfully capturing the nuances of emotion at the dawning prospect of love, Greuze works within the prescribed oval shape to lay stress upon the smooth curves of the girl’s face, brows, and hair ribbons, her straw hat, and cupped hands. The refinement of tones is seen in the transparency of the girl’s porcelain flesh, and the fluid brushwork of the creamy white costume, with its active play of delicate folds of fabric.