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Jean-Baptiste Marie Huet

(1745–1811, Paris)

Pastoral Landscape with Shepherd Family and Herd. Oil on copper. 17.6 x 13.6 cm.

Jean-Baptiste Marie Huet is chiefly known as a genre and animal painter, in which disciplines he achieved considerable success. Born in Paris into the family of an artist craftsman, he was drawn almost as a matter of course into the artistic milieu of his time, his development being shaped by such major talents as François Boucher and Jean-Baptiste Le Prince. In 1769 Huet was admitted to full membership of the Paris Academy. The extent of Huet’s activity was considerable. His paintings and drawings – which he largely distributed himself through reproductive engravings – and his designs for ornaments made an important contribution to the artistic taste of his time. He was a technically gifted and engaging minor master, whose work, apart from a few exceptions, steered clear of "grande peinture", a restriction that paved the way for his significant achievements. Huet’s drawings of animals are noteworthy for their liveliness and simple closeness to nature, which distinguishes them in agreeable manner from the animal portrayals of the Boucher school which often appear somewhat artificial.

The artistic freshness of the present little painting on copper also testifies convincingly to Huet’s skill. The refined painting technique employed is that of a miniature, which enables the artist to achieve a maximum of atmospheric density and concentrate a lot of action within a small format. A young shepherd attempts to control a heavy-laden donkey, which stubbornly resists him. His dog yaps irritably, while two sheep flee in alarm. On the left we see a shepherdess with two children and a herd of cattle proceeding deliberately on their way. Worthy of note is Huet’s sensitive gift of observation and the subtle humour with which he portrays the individual animals, each of which is given its own specific physical features and movements. The willows swaying in the gentle breeze and the tall, soft grass in the foreground are depicted in a way that is wonderfully airy and yet precisely delineated. Colour is used to create mood by contrasting the muted greens and browns of the vegetation and terrain with the cool whites, reds and blues used for the clothes of the shepherd and the fur of the dog. On the horizon we see the gentle swell of a range of hills shrouded in a bluish haze. Mild, clear light illuminates the scene, revealing a perfect refl ection of rural life.

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