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September 23, 2011

Social Parisians sans frills: Jean-François de Troy


Jean-François de Troy was born early on in 1679 in Paris. His father was a portrait painter, but Jean-François really had no interest in that. He grew up enjoying life, that is, creating scandals and living in leisure. On his fathers dime he traveled to Italy and spent some time there at the French Academy in Rome, and in the bed of a Judge's young wife. (tsk!)


He began a career in art, not painting portraits like his father, but large scale works of mythology and religious imagery. His talent seemed to exceed father's and he mastered another subject - depictions of everyday Parisian life. Images of the well to do doing well, and doing typical polite everyday things. This was different; his works represented a true glimpse into the lives of the upper class.


Jean-François de Troy, Reading from Moliere. Private Collection.

This is a painting called Reading from Moliere, and it shows a group of upper class Parisians gathered for an evening of good conversation and agreeable company. It is a perfectly natural and honest evening of friends being social in a private setting. Like a snapshot of the moment some of figures are engaged mid-sentence while others look up or turn their heads to acknowledge you. No one is plotting, or misbehaving.

What makes this painting particular is it's pure unbiased subject matter. Unlike a scene by Hogarth, there is no witty moral suggestion here nor is the scene enhanced by narratives. Even Watteau's images like these were often riddled with hints of the erotic. De Troy exuded professionalism in his work, and the images of these social scenes are nothing but polite. They are true records of the social life lived by the upper class.

These paintings seem to be some of the most believable historical records (visual records!) because, they are not a Hogarth or Watteau. Believable because there is no funny business happening! No exaggerated decoration, no lesson to be learned. Just a lesson in social history- the polite manners and life style of the more privileged life.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for this post!
    "A reading from Molière" is one of my big favourites! :)

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  2. This blog is amazing!

    And despite the funny business, I must confess I've always been partial to Hogarth.

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  3. Wow- those are beautiful paintings (and the clothes are gorgeous)!
    Thanks for posting this! :)
    -Julia

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