Broken Eggs attracted favorable comment when exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1757. One critic noted that the young serving girl had a noble pose worthy of a history painter.
The canvas was painted in Rome, but the principal source may have been a seventeenth-century Dutch work by Frans van Mieris the Elder (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), which Greuze would have known from an engraving. The broken eggs symbolize the loss of the girl's virginity.
Greuze was of modest birth, the son of a roofer. He received his early training in Lyons and in Paris studied drawing with Charles Joseph Natoire. In 1755, after he was accepted as a candidate member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in the category of genre painter, Greuze presented five works for exhibition at the Salon. He then set off as the traveling companion of the Abbé Louis Gougenot (1724–1767) for the more or less obligatory visit to Italy. They settled in Rome in January 1756, and in May, when Greuze declined to accompany Gougenot on the journey home, Natoire, by then the director of the Académie de France in Rome, offered the impoverished younger artist housing and a studio for the balance of his stay. Greuze departed for Paris before April 20, 1757, intending to show his Italian work at the biennial Salon.
Greuze was ambitious and intractable. While in Rome, he was not immune to the influence of antiquity but he seems to have been uninterested in ancient history and mythology, preferring modern subjects with moral overtones. In spring 1756 he painted Broken Eggs for Gougenot and in late February 1757 he completed the so-called Neapolitan Gesture (Worcester Art Museum) for the same patron. Both were exhibited in 1757; they are the same size and seem to constitute a narrative pair. Greuze gave the present picture a long descriptive title in the published list of works on view at the Salon: Une Mère grondant un jeune Homme pour avoir renversé un Panier d’Oeufs que sa Servante apportoit du Marché. Un Enfant tente de raccomoder un oeuf cassé. (A mother scolding a young man for having overturned a basket of eggs that her servant brought from the market. A child attempts to repair a broken egg). It is evident from the pout of the girl—as well as from the scowling child who is holding an eggshell and a dripping yoke and who provides the subtext—that something more than eggs has been broken, and in the eighteenth century it would have been understood, even if not directly stated, that it was the girl’s virtue the youth had violated.
Greuze must have been gratified when his 1757 exhibits were hung near those of the academician Chardin. The younger painter’s genre subjects would not achieve equivalent official success, however, which would be a source of grave disappointment. Greuze’s Italian subjects evade interpretation and can be read as dark and unoptimistic in mood, but Broken Eggs is nevertheless an astonishingly skillful performance, especially in view of the fact that several years before, when the artist arrived in Paris from Burgundy, he had been little more than competent.
[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (lower right): Greuze f. Roma / 1756
Abbé Louis Gougenot, later Abbé de Chézal-Benoît, Rome and Paris (until d. 1767; inv., 1767, no. 86, with pendant); George Gougenot de Croissy (1767–possibly until d. 1784); sale, Paillet, Paris, April 18–25, 1803, no. 90, with pendant for Fr 3,000 to Delaroche or more probably to Tessier; Count Nikolai Nikitich Demidov, Palais de San Donato, near Florence (until d. 1828); Prince Anatole Nikolaievich Demidov, Palais de San Donato (1828–70; his sale, Pillet, Paris, February 26, 1870, no. 107, with pendant for Fr 126,000 to Hertford); Richard Seymour, 4th Marquess of Hertford, Paris (d. 1870); his natural son, Sir Richard Wallace, Paris and London (1870–75; sold for £5,229 to Dudley); William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley, London (1875–d. 1885); William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley, London (from 1885); Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, New York (until 1895); William K. Vanderbilt, New York (1895–d. 1920)
Paris. Salon. "[no title]," 1757, no. 112.
London. Victoria and Albert Museum, Bethnal Green Branch. "Collection of Paintings, . . . and other Works of Art lent for Exhibition by Sir Richard Wallace," 1872–75, no. 468.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "French Painting and Sculpture of the XVIII Century," November 6, 1935–January 5, 1936, no. 32.
Toledo Museum of Art. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," November–December 1946, no. 8.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," January–February 1947, no. 8.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 70).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 305.
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805," March 5–May 1, 1977, no. 9.
Dijon. Musée des Beaux-Arts. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805," June 4–July 31, 1977, no. 9.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," June 6–September 7, 2003, no. 64.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," October 12, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 64.
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," February 8–May 9, 2004, no. 64.
L'abbé Barthélemy. Letter to the comte de Caylus. May 12, 1756 [published in "Voyage en Italie de M. l'abbé Barthelemy . . .", Paris: F. Buisson, An X (1802), p. 138; reprinted by Minkoff Reprints, Geneva, 1972], describes the painting and adds "la figure de la fille a une position si noble, qu'elle pourrait orner un tableau d'histoire".
[E.-C. Fréron]. "Lettre XV, Exposition des ouvrages de peinture, de sculpture & de gravûre." Année littéraire 5 (1757), pp. 347–48 (Collection Deloynes, vol. 7, no. 88; McWilliam 1991, no. 0103), praises the picture: "Avec quel plaisir on considère une jeune fille aimable, affligé d'avoir renversé un panier d'oeufs! Sa tête est charmante; elle est peinte avec une belle douceur, & pleine d'expression. On trouve dans le reste du tableau, avec le plus grande vérité, une force singulière de couleur, et en effet très piquant".
[Charles Joseph] Natoire. Letter to Mme de Pompadour. February 22, 1757 [published in Ref. Goncourt 1880, p. 332], notes that Greuze had just completed the pendant to a painting he had made for l'abbé Gougenot.
John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 8, London, 1837, p. 430, no. 113, states that "while playing with a bow and arrow, [the little boy] has hurt his hand with the barb; an allusion to the danger of playing with Cupid's darts"; notes that the painting was engraved by Moiette.
Anatole de Montaiglon in Jules Renouvier. Histoire de l'art pendant la révolution . . . suivi d'une étude sur J.-B. Greuze. Paris, 1863, pp. 504–5, as one of four paintings "dans le costume italien" that Greuze sent to the 1757 Salon.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, pp. 332, 339, 350, state that it was bought for 126,000 francs by Lord Hertford at the San Donato sale in 1870.
Ch. Normand. "J. B. Greuze." Les artistes célèbres. Paris, 1892, pp. 20, 61, ill. p. 66 (Veyrassat etching), sees it as an example of Greuze borrowing from Boucher; locates it in the collection of Lord Dudley.
Henry Marcel in Camille Mauclair. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Paris, 1905, p. 40.
J. Martin and Charles Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de Jean-Baptiste Greuze [published as supplement to C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paris, 1905]. Paris, 1905, p. 14, no. 181; ill. p. 3 (engraving), list related works: a study, sold March 18, 1890; a drawing in trois crayons heightened with pastel, signed and dated 1756, sold March 16, 1898; engravings by Moitte and Haïd, and an etching by Veyrassat.
John Rivers. Greuze and His Models. London, 1912, pp. 125–26, 270, ill. opp. p. 126 (Moitte engraving).
Louis Hautecœur. Greuze. Paris, 1913, pp. 22, 58, 120.
"The William K. Vanderbilt Bequest." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (December 1920), p. 269.
Louis Réau. "Greuze et la Russie." L'art et les artistes 1 (1920), p. 282, in the Wallace Collection, London.
Wallace Collection Catalogues: Pictures and Drawings. 14th ed. London, 1920, p. 123, as exhibited at Bethnal Green in 1872.
Gaston Maugras. Le duc et la duchesse de Choiseul, leur vie intime, leurs amis et leurs temps. Paris, 1924, p. 65, describes this picture and states that the Duchess enthusiastically bought it.
Wallace Collection Catalogues: Pictures and Drawings. 15th ed. London, 1928, p. 122, among twenty-two works lent by Sir Richard Wallace to the Bethnal Green Museum.
Harry B. Wehle inFrench Painting and Sculpture of the XVIII Century. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1935, p. 7, pl. 32, ill.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, pp. 691–92, no. 1869, ill.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 174–75, ill., states that it was painted in Rome between late January and May 12, 1756 for l'abbé Gougenot, and that Prince Demidoff—who lived in the same house with Greuze—probably bought it from Gougenot; notes that its very minute treatment emulates seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish genre painters.
Anita Brookner. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze – I." Burlington Magazine 98 (May 1956), p. 158, fig. 34 (engraving erroneously labeled as the painting), illustrates the Moitte engraving after Mieris (fig. 35) that inspired Greuze and comments on the Dutch and Flemish influence.
Edgar Munhall. "Greuze." PhD diss., Yale University, 1959, part 2, pp. 8–11, 13 nn. 52, 61; part 4, p. 12, suggests that M. de Stainville, the French ambassador in Rome, may have purchased this picture; states that it was the first Greuze painted after he settled in Rome on January 28, 1756, and that it was finished by the time of Barthélemy's letter of May 12; sees in the detailed setting the inspiration of Dutch engravings and in the soft and artificial details the influence of Boucher's pastels; observes that engravings of "The Broken Eggs" and "The Neapolitan Gesture" were sold together as pendants.
Willibald Sauerländer. "Pathosfiguren im Oeuvre des Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Walter Friedlaender zum 90. Geburtstag. Ed. Georg Kauffmann and Willibald Sauerländer. Berlin, 1965, pp. 148–49, pl. 30, fig. 5, discusses Netherlandish and classical sources, commenting that the pose of the young man recalls the Farnese Hercules.
Anita Brookner. Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth-century Phenomenon. Greenwich, Conn., 1972, pp. 58–59, 80, 97–98, 144, fig. 16, states that the duchesse de Grammont, sister of M. de Stainville, bought this picture from Greuze in Rome, and that "sexual innuendo here reigns supreme," though the picture is based on an engraving by Moitte after Mieris.
Pierre Rosenberg. The Age of Louis XV: French Painting, 1710–1774. Exh. cat., Toledo Museum of Art. [Toledo], 1975, p. 4, mentions the price at the San Donato sale as an example of collector infatuation with eighteenth-century painting after 1869.
Edgar Munhall. Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805. Ed. Joseph Focarino. Exh. cat.Hartford, 1976, pp. 20, 40–41, no. 9, ill., notes that the same models posed for the 1757 pendant, "The Neapolitan Gesture".
Mario Amaya. "The Moralist: J.-B. Greuze." Art in America (November–December 1976), pp. 85–86.
Stuart Preston. "The Revaluation of Greuze." Apollo 105 (February 1977), p. 139, fig. 9.
Antoine Schnapper. "Greuze: Un précurseur?" Connaissance des arts no. 304 (June 1977), p. 87.
Rüdiger Klessmann. "The Wadsworth Atheneum. Ausstellung: Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Pantheon 35, no. 2 (1977), p. 175.
Robert Rosenblum. "The Greuze Exhibition at Hartford and Elsewhere." Burlington Magazine 119 (February 1977), p. 146, addresses the importance of the exhibition; sees in our picture and its pendant a "polarized structure of emotional conflict that prefigures David".
Antoine Schnapper. "Review of Edgar Munhall, 'Jean Baptiste Greuze,' 1977." Art Bulletin 60, no. 2 (June 1978), p. 374.
Michael Fried. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. Berkeley, 1980, pp. 35, 191, n. 66, p. 200, n. 120, ill. p. 36, believes our picture and "La parasseuse italienne" represent the "absorptive concerns" of the eighteenth century in their depictions of sleep-related subjects and moods of "lassitude, reverie, and psychological absence".
Otto Naumann. Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1981, vol. 2, p. 19, notes that an engraving in reverse by Moitte after Meiris was the inspiration; adds that an inscription on the print alludes to the symbolism of the broken egg.
James Thompson. "A Study by Greuze for Broken Eggs." Metropolitan Museum Journal 17 (1982), pp. 47–48, ill., discusses a chalk drawing in the Albertina, Vienna, that is a study for the boy; argues that, rather than uncomprehending or innocent, he is in fact a "solemn witness to the impossibility of repairing what is broken".
Heather McPherson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze's Italian Sojourn, 1755–57." Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture 14 (1985), pp. 94, 100–106, fig. 4, ill., argues that Greuze's Italian sojourn was highly significant in the development of his moralizing genre subjects; compares the girl's pose to Caravaggio's "Magdalen" (Galleria Doria-Pamphilj, Rome); notes that Greuze attempted to ennoble ordinary subjects, and suggests that the flattened, friezelike composition, and intensity of emotion and gesture anticipate his "Septimius Severus and Caracalla" of 1769.
Philip Conisbee. Chardin. Oxford, 1986, pp. 214–15, mentions it as an example of the moralizing dramas that appealed to Salon audiences at the time and relates it to Boucher's "The Pretty Kitchen-maid".
Edgar Munhall. "The Variety of Genres in the Work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805." Porticus (1987–1988), p. 22, notes that our picture prompted one contemporary critic to suggest that Greuze try his hand at the more elevated genre of history painting.
Andrzej Pienkos. "'L'Oiseleur' et les trois autres 'Tableaux dans le costume italien.' Quelques remarques sur l'oeuvre de jeunesse de Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie 28, no. 1–2 (1987), pp. 1, 3–4, 6, 11–13, ill., discusses the diversity of sources for the "tableaux dans le costume italien"; notes that the background of "Broken Eggs" resembles interiors by Maes and Dou.
Carol S. Eliel in1789: French Art During the Revolution. Ed. Alan Wintermute. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1989, p. 61 n. 28.
James Thompson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 14, 21, figs. 11–13 (color, overall and details), and color details on front and back cover, cites it as the first in a series of works in which a shattered object symbolizes lost chastity; stresses the importance of the bow and arrow on which the child leans and describes him as a "solemn, plainclothes Cupid, silently commenting on the irreparable consequences of erotic abandon".
Emma Barker. "Greuze and the Painting of Sentiment: The Family in French Art 1755–1785." PhD diss., Courtauld Institute of Art, 1994, vol. 1, pp. 283, 487, ill., contrasts it with Greuze's later works dealing with the theme of errant daughters.
Edgar Munhall inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 13, New York, 1996, p. 639–40, ill.
JoLynn Edwards. Alexandre-Joseph Paillet: Expert et marchand de tableaux à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1996, pp. 56, 313, ill. p. 58.
Richard Rand et al. Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France. Exh. cat., Hood Museum of Art. Hanover, N.H., 1997, pp. 57, 79, 150–51 n. 6, pp. 190–91 n. 1, ill.
Colin B. Bailey. Jean-Baptiste Greuze: The Laundress. Los Angeles, 2000, p. 5, fig. 2 (color), notes that the genre pictures painted in Rome circulated in Paris prior to the 1757 Salon, and "impressed observers not only by their naturalism and local color, but, more importantly, by their considerable seriousness and ambition".
Mark Ledbury. Sedaine, Greuze and the Boundaries of Genre. Oxford, 2000, p. 125 n. 3, pp. 135–37, 176, pl. 14, addresses Greuze's awkward rendering of bodily proportion; discusses his interest in "the salacious and a seeming determination to avoid the historical and heroic in favour of the anecdotal and the theatrical"; notes that the two scenes "can easily be read as a narrative of seduction and its aftermath familiar from popular theatre".
Edgar Munhall. Greuze the Draftsman. Exh. cat.London, 2002, p. 50, ill. (detail).
Colin B. Bailey inThe Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting. Ed. Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 2003, pp. 248–50, 366, no. 64, ill. (color).
Mary D. Sheriff. Moved by Love: Inspired Artists and Deviant Women in Eighteenth-Century France. Chicago, 2004, pp. 209–10, fig. 55.
Bernadette Fort. "The Greuze Girl: The Invention of a Pictorial Paradigm." French Genre Painting in the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Philip Conisbee. Washington, 2007, pp. 131–33, 147 nn. 13, 20, 23, fig. 2, notes that that the servant in Broken Eggs "is, literally, a 'fallen' girl'" by comparison with the bejeweled upper-class young lady in "The Neapolitan Gesture" disdainfully dismissing her suitor; asserts that the scenes "are intended for connoisseurs who enjoy decoding visual signifiers, as well as the tension they produce between a proffered moral message and its witty deconstruction"; suggests that the artist used the same model here and in his "Lazy Italian Maid" of 1655 (National Gallery, London).
Mark Ledbury. "Greuze in Limbo: Being 'Betwixt and Between'." French Genre Painting in the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Philip Conisbee. Washington, 2007, p. 187, ill. p. 178 and fig. 14 (color, overall and detail), discusses it in the context of Greuze's other images of a seduced woman, remarking that playful references to the penitent Magdalen "point to a scenario of remorse, not passage".