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Landscape with a Lady Angling, Accompanied by a Boy Playing with a Dog



Jean-Baptiste Huet (1745-1811)
Landscape with a Lady Angling, Accompanied by a Boy Playing with a Dog
Watercolour (somewhat faded) over black chalk, heightened with white on laid paper
AGLC 311 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

Despite Edmond de Goncourt’s dismissive  criticism of Jean-Baptiste Huet, as ‘the  copyist, the plagiarist, of the drawings, of the  motifs, of the very techniques, of Boucher…let us  say it out loud: what with Boucher that is pretty  sometimes has grandeur to it, is never anything but  pretty with Huet’,   his collection contained no less  than six drawings by him (as against thirteen by  François Boucher [1703-1770], together with one  doubtfully ascribed to him, and a watercolour –  the brothers’ very first acquisition – that was more  probably actually by Huet). It may be significant,  however, that all of them were acquired during the  lifetime of Jules de Goncourt.         

There is no denying that Huet was Boucher’s most  faithful imitator – despite never having been his  pupil. With time, however, he developed both a  style and a technique of his own, even if one of the  chief modes that he practised, that of the pastoral,  had been one of the most distinctive ones of his  idol. However, he also had a particular facility for  depicting animals. The technique was that of watercolour,  which it would often be more accurate  to call ‘coloured drawing’, as well as gouache. The  style was more minute than that of Boucher, and  it would be fair to call it, as Goncourt did, ‘pretty’. It  first emerged in the mid-1770s (an early example is  that of the Shepherdess and Market-girl Conversing in a  Landscape of 1774; Snite Museum of Art, University  of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN). Huet may have  been encouraged to take this path by the critical  drubbing that his attempt at a large-scale history  painting in oils, of Hercules and Omphale (location  unknown), received when it was shown in the  1779 Salon.   By then, however, he not only had a  considerable body of collectors eager to obtain his  drawings, watercolours and gouaches – so much  so, that he felt no need to exhibit anything in the  Salon in the year that the present one was made –  but he had also had a gifted engraver specialising  in the reproduction of drawings, Gilles Demarteau,  known as Demarteau l’Aîné (1722-1776), to satisfy  the wider market for his compositions. Gilles’ nephew,  Gilles-Antoine Demarteau (1750-1802), continued  to engrave and publish Huet’s compositions in the  same vein, albeit less well, but there were numerous  other skilful engravers, such as Louis-Marin  Bonnet (1736-1793) and J. Augustin L’Eveillé (dates  unknown) who reproduced his work.         

The present watercolour is a charming example of  Huet’s work in this vein. It is a little unusual in that,  instead of enlivening his landscape with rural figures  and animals, he has placed there a fashionably  dressed lady who would be more at home in one of  his interior scenes. Angling was, however, a pastime  that gentlewomen could indulge in (possibly  a result of influence from England).   Huet may also  have intended the surreptitious implication that  women also had hooks of another kind, designed  for human prey (‘A woman […] is a very angle, hir  he[a]rt is a nett, and hir handes are cheynes’; Myles  Coverdale’s translation of Ecclesiastes, 7:26). 

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About the artist

From a large family of artists, he practised in Paris as a painter, engraver and designer. Strongly influenced by François Boucher, he produced pastoral landscapes and genre scenes in the Rococo style; he had a gift for depicting animals. Aside from his engravings, he is also known for his decorative art designs, in particular for textiles.

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