Lancret! What a delightful epoch and how many beautiful things evokes the name! To speak of Lancret brings us back to the beautiful days of Trianon and Versailles, at the time when these sumptuous residences sheltered the courtyard, where the solemn alleys of the park were animated by the babbling of the groups, or covered their tender confessions murmured in a low voice. It is a whole past of elegance, frivolity, wit, cheerfulness, politeness, it is a whole world which revives whose sole purpose seems to have been pleasure, and the intrigue in love the only occupation . Even more than Boucher, Lancret is the faithful historiographer of the time in that he does not cover his characters as he does under the anonymous veil of allegory. His models, he takes them in life itself, around him, and he paints them as he sees them, with their true adjustments and in their familiar attitudes. See that pompous marchioness who hurries along the Neptune basin, blushing and pretty, running no doubt at some rendezvous, and turning up a rustling skirt in order to go faster: it is a Lancret passing by. It is a Lancret too, that young page with a waking face that seems to wait, in the shade of a grove, the promised adventure.
It is also a Lancret, and of the most charming, the young couple conversing at the foot of a tree that shows us the picture reproduced here. Seated beneath the dark foliage, the young woman seems to listen to the gallant murmurings near her ear by a rider leaning against a wall. She listens, but the smile of her eyes and lips suggests that the sweetness of her lover amuses her without convincing her. What an exquisite creature that woman and what charm in this delicate face framed in a blond diadem! On her bare shoulders a light coat in blue veil is carelessly thrown away; around the neck a necklace of pearls wraps and descends along the throat whose roundness can be seen by the notch of the bodice. A silk skirt of an extinct yellow gracefully draped around the body in flexible folds that descend to the ground. The left hand is placed on the knees; the right hand, beautifully modeled, holds a mask of black velvet. This comedy attribute fits perfectly with the costume of the character placed near the young woman and which has all the appearance of an Italian actor.
This delicate fantasy is painted with a superior art. Lancret has lavished these moire, velvety tones, which give an additional elegance to this picture. Everything is balanced and charming: the blue, the red, the yellow, although arranged in compact and distinct masses, harmonize and blend to form an ensemble of adorable sweetness.
Lancret is, with Watteau, the most representative painter of the century of boudoirs, rural fetes and gallant intrigues.
As a young man he had known the great artist. Moved by the admiration shown him by the young Lancret, he gave him advice, and the pupil studied so well the manner of the master that he succeeded in appropriating it to himself. It was so much so that one day at an Exhibition two works by Lancret were taken for Watteau. The result was a quarrel between the two painters, which lasted for many years.
Despite the similarity of genres, however, a wise eye can not confuse the two artists. Lancret has not the melancholy poetry of his great rival nor his brilliant imagination. In the somewhat conventional landscapes which both use as the background of their paintings, Watteau places characters, no doubt, but more lively than those of Lancret; so his color is warmer, more vibrant. A little colder, slightly frozen, Lancret has none the less a charming grace; his art is smiling and his delicate characters make one think of precious and frail trinkets. Lancret had considerable vogue. His works, generally small, were appreciated and sold very well. To fortune were added honors. In 1719, he was appointed to the Royal Academy of Painting, with the title of “painter of the galante festivals” which he shared with Watteau.
When Lancret learned that Watteau was seriously ill, he asked to be reconciled with that master whom he had so admired and loved. The two painters forgave each other for their reciprocal faults: they both had a fair share of glory to forget any rancor.
The glory of Lancret, without equaling that of Watteau, remains enviable. Elegant and spiritual, he is indeed the painter of the society of his time: free without coarseness, delicate, charming, he evokes only laughing images or pleasant scenes. His Country scenes, his Conversations, his Concerts, his decorative allegories are little renewed subjects, but which he knows how to render amiable by the graceful abandonment of attitudes, by the agreeable landscape, and by the ingenuous piquant details.
The museum of Berlin possesses 26 Lancret; less rich, the Louvre has only 12.
The Conversation has entered our great national museum with the collection La Caze.
Height: 0.38 – Width: 0.27 – Figures: 0.14.