LANCRET, Nicolas
(b. 1690, Paris, d. 1743, Paris)


c. 1720
Oil on canvas, 115 x 94 cm
Private collection

Four large-scale decorative canvases emblematizing the 'Four Seasons' were commissioned around 1720 by Jean-François Leriget de la Faye (1764-1731), one of the most enlightened and distinguished patrons of the arts in Régence Paris. He was a diplomat, military man and connoisseur of art, music, ballet and theater, an amateur poet with enough merit to claim a seat in the Académie Française.

By 1721, Watteau was dead and Lancret would have emerged as his undisputed successor as master of the fête galante. The commission would be the most important of Lancret's early career - indeed, one of the most important he would ever receive - coming as he was first establishing himself as an independent artist.

Lancret's four paintings are wholly modern. With each canvas measuring c. 115 cm high and enlivened with a dozen or more figures, the artist represented each season of the year in lively scenes of contemporary city or country life, cloaked in fashionable dress and surroundings. The paintings are sparkling in execution, bright and richly coloured, and filled with carefully observed and often witty vignettes of men and women enjoying the pleasures of leisure time. The artist exemplified each season by its effect on human pleasure and merrymaking, showing the different forms of entertainment they offered: savouring grapes and wine in Autumn, bird catching in Spring, bathing in Summer, and playing cards by a cozy fire in Winter.

Lancret's allegory of Winter depicts the everyday pleasures of upper-class society in early 18th-century France, set in a stately Régence interior. A group of figures are gathered in a refined drawing room; a fire lit in the background and fur-lined overgowns worn by the elegant ladies identify the season as winter. A card game is taking place at the table; some players are discussing strategy while others seem lost in thought, and the woman sitting at the center looks directly out at the viewer rather than at her hand. Two women nearby are reading a score while a third stands behind them, seemingly humming along. The young lady in the foreground entertains a kitten, while an older woman sits by the fire in the background, a small dog in her lap.

In addition to its allegorical subject of Winter, the painting is one of the earliest known depictions of a Régence interior. In decorative arts, Régence was the transition style between Louis XIV's Baroque and Louis XV's Rococo.