‘“Jean Baptiste Greuze,” Holmes continued, joining his finger tips and leaning well back in his chair, “was a French artist who flourished between the years 1750 and 1800. I allude, of course to his working career. Modern criticism has more than indorsed the high opinion formed of him by his contemporaries.”’ Thus reads a portion of Arthur Conan Doyle’s very first chapter of The Valley of Fear.
Even nearly three centuries later, modern connoisseurs corroborate Arthur Conan Doyle’s estimation of Jean Baptiste Greuze’s prowess as an artist. Greuze was born on August 21, 1725 in Tournus, Burgundy. After completing a few years in Lyon studying the nuances of art, Greuze moved on to Paris. From the very beginning Greuze’s intention was to be considered as a serious historical painter. Unfortunately, such inclinations of his brought him in direct confrontation with the Academy in Paris at a later date.
Late 1750s and ’60s observed the fullest expression of Jean Baptiste Greuze’s creative faculty. His paintings, while following a rococo style, thrived on melodrama. But drama was brewing inside the four walls of his home as well. A marital dissonance followed by a costly divorce and his own extravagance forced him into severe pecuniary distress. Even though he earned heftily through his paintings he died a destitute on March 4, 1805. His student and artist Constance Mayer was one of the very few to pay homage during his funeral.