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Exhibition guide

Sections 3 and 4

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (Tournus, 1725-Paris, 1805), Jeune Berger tenant une fleur,1760-1761, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais. © Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet
© Jean-Baptiste Greuze (Tournus, 1725-Paris, 1805), Jeune Berger tenant une fleur,1760-1761, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais. © Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet

Interior lives and Sleepers.

Section 3 : Interior lives

What do these women, children and men dream of? They are so absorbed in their thoughts or immersed in their activities that they do not seem to be aware that they are being observed. Idle old men, dreamy children, women at the window… these idlers exist in opposition to the ideal of an active life upheld by the upper classes of the time. Readers of all ages complete this whole. We discover them fascinated with reading Homeric exploits or immersed in the meticulous deciphering of sacred texts. Each one illustrates a facet of the state of absorption described by the historian Michael Fried: a profoundly distant attitude and a lack of awareness, perhaps deliberate, of the observer's presence.

This behaviour makes them particularly intriguing. The detail of an expression, the originality of the pose, decor and accessories are the only clues the viewer has. Sometimes they open up avenues to elucidate the profession of one of these characters or to guess what they are thinking about. But for the most part, this interior universe, which seems so rich, is inaccessible to us. All we have is our imagination perhaps, to try to make up for these deficiencies.

Section 4 - Sleepers

Sleepers subtly evoke the themes of presence and absence. Their body, exposed to our eyes, seems particularly close and vulnerable. But their absence is total: they are entirely immersed in a world of dreams.

In this part of the exhibition, artists sometimes evoke mythological or Christian references, from the sleep of Psyche to that of baby Jesus. They propose variations on the themes traditionally associated with sleepers, whether eroticism, death, exhaustion or laziness. Thus, the unrestraint of sleeping women can suggest a certain sexual availability, while other characters fall into a deep sleep after a gruelling day. As for children, the pink of their cheeks and their curled eyelashes are an invitation for wonderment and stir the fear of waking a peacefully sleeping being.

Many of these works abandon the vertical format conventionally used in portraits. A horizontal view is often better suited to these stretched or curled up bodies, even if sometimes it forces the viewer to adjust their position, bowing their head or raising their eyes to understand better the logic of the painting..


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