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Nicolas Lancret, The Four Ages of Man: Youth

Key facts
Full title The Four Ages of Man: Youth
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 × 45.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lt-Col John Harvey Ollney, 1837
Inventory number NG103
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Four Ages of Man: Youth
Nicolas Lancret

This is the third of Lancret’s series of paintings depicting The Four Ages of Man and represents Youth (La Jeunesse).

Three pairs of lovers embrace one another in a woodland glade. In the foreground, two archers are engaged in a game of ‘pape-guay’, which involves shooting at an imitation bird (usually a parrot) placed on top of a long pole. The two apparently unattached women watching in the background might be read as the targets for the arrows aimed by the archers, as arrows are associated with Cupid, the god of love.

Usually the third subject of The Four Ages of Man is maturity, represented by settled married couples. We do not know why Lancret instead chose to represent this scene of young playful lovers. Such encounters in woodland settings had become a popular theme in art, inspired in particular by the paintings of Watteau and prints after them.

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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.