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Work The Three Graces

Department of Paintings: French painting

The Three Graces

© 1987 RMN / Christian Jean

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Michèle Perny

This painting by Regnault perfectly typifies the taste for antiquity that was in vogue in 18th-century France. The artist interpreted an ancient sculpture with skill and precision, bringing it to life with color, charm, and beauty. The best known representations of the three Graces include Botticelli's Primavera, the paintings by Raphael and Rubens, and a sculpted group by Canova.

A mythological subject

This painting depicts three goddesses from ancient Greek mythology called the Graces, known in Greek as the Charites. Originally goddesses of nature, they came to be generally considered as companions of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of Love and Beauty. According to poetic and literary tradition, the Graces were three in number, and their names were Euphrosyne, Thalia, and Aglaia. Eternally young and lovely, they represented charm, beauty, and human creativity, and were depicted naked, originally holding attributes such as apples, roses, and sprigs of myrtle.

The poses of the figures in this painting were directly inspired by an ancient marble statue in the Libreria Piccolomini in the Duomo at Siena: the nymph in the middle is seen from behind; the one on the left faces the viewer, with her head turned to one side; the one on the right is shown in profile, her head turned toward the viewer. The result resembles three different views of the same figure. The three goddesses are linked together in a ring, holding each other by the waist or neck to form a graceful chain.

The triumph of neoclassicism

This painting, with its smooth contours, sinuous forms, and luminous colors is typical of Regnault's style. The mythological subject served as a pretext for painting three young women in graceful poses, the pinkish-white of their flesh tones enhanced by a dark background dotted with tiny flowers. The contrast of light and shade and the pure "Greek style" lines reflect Regnault's charming brand of neoclassicsim, expressed with almost excessive perfection.

A brilliant career during a tumultuous period in history

In 1764, Jean-Baptiste Regnault followed his father (who left for America in the hope of making his fortune) before joining the merchant navy as a ship's boy. On his father's death he returned to France, where his artistic abilities attracted attention. He joined the studio of the painter Jean Bardin, and in 1768 accompanied his teacher to Rome where he moved in artistic circles, mixing with the early neoclassical theorists. He was awarded the Premier Prix de Rome (First Grand Prize) in 1776, and went back to Italy as a pensioner of the King. Returning to France in 1783, he became a member of the Royal Academy, and was elected a member of the Institute in 1795. Many aspiring artists were trained in Regnault's studio. His major contemporary rival was Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). His experience of several political regimes, from the Revolution and the Empire (when he was made a baron) to the Restoration, may explain that his work is characterized by great variety despite a remarkable constancy of style and expression. Although he is described as a portraitist and history painter, he owes much of his fame to mythological paintings, in which he excelled (the Three Graces being one of his best known).

Technical description

  • Baron Jean-Baptiste REGNAULT (Paris, 1754 - Paris, 1829)

    The Three Graces

    1793-1794

  • H. 2.04 m; W. 1.53 m

  • Bequest of Dr. Louis La Caze, 1869 , 1869

    M.I. 1101

  • Paintings

    Sully wing
    2nd floor
    Vien
    Room 53

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated bottom right: Regnault an II