“Le Discret” by Joseph Ducreux

Where: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.  

Le Discret

Photo: Spencer Museum of Art

In Joseph Ducreux’s 18th century oil painting, “Le Discret,” the subject cautions the viewer to be discreet.  Or has the subject – Ducreux himself – transgressed and wants you to keep his secret?

“This painting is extremely popular with our visitors,” says Susan Earle, the Spencer’s curator for European and American art.  “The man’s gesture exhorts us to be quiet, or, perhaps, not to tell anyone what he might be doing.  The sense that the painting speaks directly to visitors makes people respond to it immediately.”

“Le Discret” is part of a series that Ducreux created to convey different human emotions, all of them self-portraits.  He was interested in human physiognomy and how emotions could be portrayed on the face and through gesture.

“Physiognomic studies, as these were called, were popular in the late 18th century as part of a greater understanding of human expression and connections with science and the Enlightenment,” says Earle.

Ducreux was a French artist who served as a court painter to the King and Queen of England prior to the French Revolution.  Fearful for his life because of his position, he fled to London only to return to Paris a short time later where he lived out his life among the company of other artists.

Contact the Spencer for more information.

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