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A sick old man accompanied by his wife and a little boy are visited by a lady and her daughter, who have come to bring money to this needy family. In the center of the picture, the balletic dance of their hands conveys the significance of the action and the part that each person plays in the scene. The hand of the woman pointing to the sick couple and encouraging the little girl; the tight fist of the child shyly holding out the purse; the open hands of the old man receiving the gift with gratitude and dignity; and the clasped hands of the old woman bowing in supplication.

Greuze made moralizing genre painting one of his specialties. He treated these scenes of ordinary life with the resources of history painting: dramatized gestures, and unnamed people expressing noble and edifying sentiments. Greuze made the subject of benevolence his own. It was a trend that developed in the Age of Enlightenment, replacing the Christian charity illustrated in the works of mercy of the previous century. Moreover, the idea of the fall of the great and providing succor to those in need was popular in the neoclassical period. Greuze was also denouncing one of the dramas of his time: the sword hanging beside the bed and the books arranged in the alcove indicate that the man was of noble descent but had seen his fortunes overturned. Is he perhaps a soldier who had served in the army of Louis XV, abandoned to his wretchedness by ungrateful authority?

Details

  • Title: The Charitable Lady
  • Creator: Jean-Baptiste Greuze
  • Physical Location: Lyon, France
  • Physical Dimensions: H. 112; L. 146 cm
  • Provenance: Acquired in 1897
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Image © Lyon MBA - Photo Alain Basset
  • Date: 1772

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