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Nicolas Lancret, The Four Ages of Man: Childhood

Key facts
Full title The Four Ages of Man: Childhood
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 34.5 × 45.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lt-Col John Harvey Ollney, 1837
Inventory number NG101
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Four Ages of Man: Childhood
Nicolas Lancret

This is the first of Lancret’s series of paintings depicting The Four Ages of Man.

Ten wealthy children, a baby, a nurse and a governess are outside in a tiled neoclassical loggia. Two of the children are being taught to read by the governess, while the others are playing boisterous games. A boy and a girl with long ribbons pull along a child seated on the baby’s walking frame. A pair of girls hold the child’s hands and join the game, while two others play with a mask. The rosy-cheeked nursemaid holds the baby and watches the antics of her young charges.

This was probably the first of the series to be painted by Lancret in 1733, as the two girls playing with a mask also appear in his Dance between a Pavilion and a Fountain (Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin) of 1733.

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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.