Reading the Greuze Girl: the daughter's seduction

Barker, Emma (2012). Reading the Greuze Girl: the daughter's seduction. Representations, 117 pp. 86–119.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2012.117.1.86

Abstract

Diderot’s well-known commentary on Greuze’s Girl Weeping over a Dead Bird (1765) is the source for the generally accepted interpretation of the painting as an allegory of lost virginity. This essay challenges the authority of Diderot’s account by relating the image to representations of the young girl in a range of eighteenth-century discourses, including aesthetic theory, sentimental fiction and medical literature. It contends that the painting does not cater to the desiring gaze in a straightforwardly erotic fashion; rather than being a lover as such, the implied spectator is a quasi-paternal figure, who disavows his own desire for the girl whilst nevertheless relishing the illusion of intimacy with her. In thereby raising the specter of incest even as it represses it, Greuze’s Weeping Girl exemplifies deep-seated tensions within later eighteenth-century French culture.

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