Head of a Girl

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Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Head of a Girl

In my research of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, the word “sentimental,” or “sentimentality” often came across my radar, which was deemed so essential to Greuze’s work that critics then described his style as “sentimental art.” I never comprehended the meaning of it until I saw this portrait, Head of a Girl.

The majority of Greuze’s later work (1769-1805) consisted of titillating portraits of young girls, some of which involved girls who exposed their breasts under thin gauze, strongly suggesting sexuality under the surface appearance of childhood innocence. This portrait captures the immediacy of beauty. The young girl turns her head around, and gazes into the direction of the painter. The pigment of her face looks incredibly real, her natural blush adds color to the skin, and her dark eyes look peaceful.  Greuze’s artistic skills undoubtedly are showcased on this face. The brush strokes are light and delicate, with a certain ambiguity in application that blends the colors and adds softness to the painting.

The girl’s dress falls half down, exposing her left shoulder: all of a sign of flirtation. She exposes her back while looking back, as if inviting the painter/viewer to join her. Now we realize her true reason for blushing. Greuze achieves sentimentality through his careful work of facial expressions that exudes emotions, especially innocence. While having the face of a child, the girl’s sexually suggesting actions tell the opposite. Under the thin disguise of purity, she remains inherently corrupted.   

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