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Nicolas Lancret, The Four Ages of Man: Adolescence

Key facts
Full title The Four Ages of Man: Adolescence
Artist Nicolas Lancret
Artist dates 1690 - 1743
Series The Four Ages of Man
Date made about 1733-4
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 34.3 × 45.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lt-Col John Harvey Ollney, 1837
Inventory number NG102
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Four Ages of Man: Adolescence
Nicolas Lancret

This is the second of Lancret’s series of paintings depicting The Four Ages of Man and represents Adolescence (L'Adolescence).

A young lady stands in the centre of the painting in a grand circular room with tall windows. She admires herself in the mirror held up by a young page while her hair is decorated with bows and flowers. She is so absorbed in her own image that she does not notice her wealthy admirer has been distracted by a pretty young lady adjusting her stocking. He opens his hands as though appealing to her, while she turns and looks up at him with a coquettish glance. The French word for stocking, un bas, in eighteenth-century slang also meant female genitalia. Her revealing dress further emphasises the painting’s subject of sexual desire. The radiating pattern on the floor illustrates the idea that the gaze of a beautiful woman is like the rays of the sun.

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The Four Ages of Man


Lancret treats the traditional subject of The Four Ages of Man as a series of contemporary genre scenes – Childhood, Adolescence, Youth and Old Age.

In Childhood (L'Enfance), a group of wealthy children play boisterous games in an open-air loggia watched by their nurse and governess. In Adolescence (L’Adolescence), a young woman admires herself in a mirror while her hair is decorated with ribbons and flowers. Instead of depicting the third age as a time of maturity and showing a middle-aged married couple, Lancret paints several pairs of lovers in a woody glade, and entitles the picture Youth (La Jeunesse). In Old Age (La Vieillesse), he dispenses with the usual depiction of old people warming themselves indoors before an open fire to take the scene outdoors.

The set was engraved in reverse by Nicolas de Larmessin III in 1735. Most of the numerous painted copies were copied from the prints and are also shown in reverse.