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The Four Times of Day: Midday
Nicolas Lancret
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This is the second painting in Lancret’s series The Four Times of Day. A sculpted cherub (Love) sits on top of a sundial, the shadow of which points to the Roman numerals for 12 inscribed into the stone. The man and two women note the moment on the sundial, and one of the ladies holds her pocket watch to check it against the solar time. The man also appears to be holding a watch in his right hand. Two of the ladies flutter their fans against the heat of the middle of the day. The lady holding the basket of flowers looks away from the sundial, perhaps symbolising the brevity of life, as she offers a sprig to the beauty reclining on the ground.

The painting was etched and engraved in reverse by Nicolas de Larmessin III as part of the series The Four Hours of Day, completed by February 1741.

Key facts
Artist Nicolas Lancret
Artist dates 1690 - 1743
Full title The Four Times of Day: Midday
Group The Four Times of Day
Date made 1739-41
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 28.6 x 36.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir Bernard Eckstein, 1948
Inventory number NG5868
Location in Gallery Not on display
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The Four Times of Day

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We do not know whether someone commissioned The Four Times of Day: Morning, Midday, Afternoon and Evening or whether Lancret produced them speculatively in the hope of making money from the engravings, since series of prints were popular with the public. Painting series of pictures was something of a speciality for Lancret – he had already produced The Four Seasons in about 1719, The Four Elements by August 1732, and The Four Ages of Man (also in the National Gallery’s collection) by July 1735. The Four Times of Day was complete by February 1741, when the engraver Nicolas de Larmessin III presented proofs of his engravings of them to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris.

This series was painted on copper, which allowed for the fine and detailed brushwork we see here in the hands and faces of the principal figures, where Lancret made numerous small adjustments to produce particular expressions and gestures.

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