Jean-Baptiste Greuze

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Jean-Baptiste Greuze
Portrait of Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
Black and white chalk, worked wet, with blending, on brown paper.
14 1/4 x 11 13/16 inches (361 x 283 mm)
Gift of John M. Crawford.

Watermark: none visible through lining.
Diderot sat for the present drawing in the artist's studio in 1766, at about age fifty-three, the same year he completed the final volumes of the “Encyclopedie”, begun in 1747 with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. The art critic had first written about Greuze in his review of the annual Salon in 1759, embracing the artist's narrative, “moral” painting. He continued to write with familiarity and approval of Greuze's work through 1766. A year after this portrait was completed, however, the relationship between the two men ended and Diderot made reference in his 1767 Salon review to “my late friend Greuze.” The seeds of this conflict may be detected in some of Diderot's reflections on Greuze's personality, noting that he wavered along the line between genius and madness.
Diderot was immensely pleased with Greuze's portrait and how it accurately captured his appearance, which he described: “I had a high forehead, very lively eyes, rather large features, a head totally in the character of an ancient orator, a guilelessness that nearly bordered on simplicity, on the rusticity of ancient times.” The profile format of this portrait lent itself easily to reproduction by numerous engravers, beginning with Augustin de Saint-Aubin in 1766. These prints made Greuze's image the iconic representation of Diderot, although he remarked of his printed likeness: “without the exaggeration of all the features in the engraving made after Greuze's drawing, I would be infinitely better. I have a face that fools the artist.”


Signed, in graphite, in upper right corner, "J. B. Greuze"; inscribed in pen and brown ink, on an old label once pasted on back of frame, "Portrait de Diderot / Dessiné par Greuze pour le Baron d'Holbach / donné par Mr. d'Holbach fils à Made[superscript e] de Vandeul, fille/ de Diderot. / Après la mort de Made[superscript e] de Vandeul, il m'a été donné / par Monsr. De Vandeul son fils, le 21 décembre 1824. / E.S."

Denis Diderot, Paris (according to Baron Grimm in 1767); Paul-Henri Dietrich, Baron d'Holbach, Paris; his son, M. d'Holbach; Mme. de Vandeul, Diderot's daughter; her son, M. de Vandeul; E.S., 1824 ("E.S." may be Eugène Salverte according to Arthur M. Wilson); Martial François Marcille (according to Martin), Paris, (no mark; see under Lugt S. 605a); his sale, Paris, Defer, 4-7 March 1857 (not listed in sale catalogue); Hippolyte Walferdin, Paris; his sale, Paris, Féral, 3 April 1880, lot 76; David David-Weill, Neuilly; Wildenstein & Co., New York; John M. Crawford.
Associated names: 

Diderot, Denis, 1713-1784, former owner.
Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry, baron d', 1723-1789, former owner.
Holbach, d', former owner.
Vandeul, de, Madame, former owner.
Vandeul, de, M., former owner.
Marcille, Martial François, 1790-1856, former owner.
Walferdin, Hippolyte, former owner.
David-Weill, David, 1871-1952, former owner.
Crawford, John M., former owner.


Pierpont Morgan Library. Review of Acquisitions, 1949-1968. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1969, p. 149.
Adams, Frederick B., Jr., comp. Ninth Report to the Fellows of the Pierpont Morgan Library, 1958 & 1959. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1959, p. 108-109.
Denison, Cara D., and Helen B. Mules, with the assistance of Jane V. Shoaf. European Drawings, 1375-1825. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1981, no. 104, repr.
Denison, Cara D. French Drawings, 1550-1825. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1984, no. 67.
Denison, Cara D. French Master Drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1993, no. 65, repr. in color.
From Leonardo to Pollock: Master drawings from the Morgan Library. New York: Morgan Library, 2006, cat. no. 80, p. 168-169.

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