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The Four Ages of Man: Old Age
Nicolas Lancret
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This is the fourth and final painting in Lancret’s series of The Four Ages of Man, entitled Old Age (La Vieillesse). Lancret dispensed with the usual depiction of old people warming themselves indoors before an open fire to take the scene outdoors. A young woman rejects an old man’s advances while an old woman spins and another sleeps. A seated man with white hair and a thick beard strokes a dog while another man watches the antics of their companion with the young girl.

A work by or after the Le Nain brothers may have inspired Lancret’s depiction of Old Age. The figures in Lancret’s Old Age are seated in the courtyard of a rustic cottage and of much more modest means and dress than those in the earlier paintings in the series.

Key facts
Artist Nicolas Lancret
Artist dates 1690 - 1743
Full title The Four Ages of Man: Old Age
Group The Four Ages of Man
Date made about 1733-4
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 34.6 x 45.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lt-Col John Harvey Ollney, 1837
Inventory number NG104
Location in Gallery Not on display
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The Four Ages of Man

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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.

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