(b. 1610, Paris, d. 1696, Paris)

Market Scene with a Pick-pocket

Oil on canvas, 116 x 165,5 cm
Private collection

In French painting, the 1630s saw the development of the one unexpected genius of the period, Louise Moillon. Her long career was spent entirely in Paris, and enough of her work survives to justify her being placed among the greatest of all still-life painters. Inevitably this claim will be challenged by those who do not accept that genius can exist outside the grand manner of painting but, in the context of the art of depicting fruit and vegetables, Moillon had few superiors.

Certain influences can be detected in Moillon's art, but these are superficial. A few of her genre pictures are of the type reflected in the market scenes painted in Antwerp at the end of the sixteenth century by Joachim Beuckelaer, but Moillon's market scenes owe a debt to Antwerp only in subject-matter. The Market Scene with a Pick-pocket was recently discovered in a London private collection. In many of the Antwerp pictures, the humble activity of vegetable selling was transformed into a religious theme by smell scenes in the background such as Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, always a popular addition because it could be classed as 'genre'. In Moillon's work there is no such concession. Instead, in the London picture, the artist reveals her modernity by telling an anecdote: a prosperous housewife buys fruit and vegetables, while an urchin picks her pocket; the vegetable seller likely to be part of the plot. The whole unfortunate scene is painted with a complete sense of detachment, producing a snapshot effect rather than an elaborately posed and worked-out theme. The figures are observed as if they were part of the still-life themselves. Each still-life element in the picture is painted with enormous skill: the bloom on the fruit is beautifully recorded. Each object has an almost surreal isolation (similar to that in the celebrated Still-Life by her contemporary, the Spanish painter Zurbarán, in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena).

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.