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The Four Ages of Man: Youth
Nicolas Lancret

In the foreground stand two archers, one of whom shoots at an unseen target on top of the pole. Behind them are men and women engaged in amorous pursuits. Such encounters in wooded settings, as shown at left and in the background, had become a popular theme in art, inspired in particular by the paintings of Watteau and prints after them.

This is the third in a series of four canvases by Lancret (all in the collection) which represent the Four Ages of Man - 'Childhood', ‘Adolescence’, 'Youth', and 'Old Age'.

Key facts
Artist Nicolas Lancret
Artist dates 1690 - 1743
Full title The Four Ages of Man: Youth
Group The Four Ages of Man
Date made about 1733-4
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 34.3 x 45.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lt-Col John Harvey Ollney, 1837
Inventory number NG103
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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