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Nicolas Lancret, The Four Times of Day: Morning

Key facts
Full title The Four Times of Day: Morning
Artist Nicolas Lancret
Artist dates 1690 - 1743
Series The Four Times of Day
Date made by 1739
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 28.3 × 36.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir Bernard Eckstein, 1948
Inventory number NG5867
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Four Times of Day: Morning
Nicolas Lancret

In this, the first of Lancret’s Four Times of Day, a priest attends a young lady as she takes her breakfast and gets dressed. The clock records the time as 9.08 am. The young woman, her breast exposed, has turned away from her dressing table to pour hot water into the priest’s teacup. As the pair look directly at each other, the priest risks his hand being scalded – perhaps a visual metaphor for the risk to his soul. Lancret leaves unanswered the question of why there are two spare cups on the table, but the sense that visitors might arrive adds a frisson to the scene.

The second scene of Hogarth’s ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ may have inspired Lancret. Hogarth possibly repaid Lancret’s compliment in The Toilette, one of his six pictures from Marriage A-la-Mode (also in The National Gallery’s collection), in which the lawyer Silvertongue, wearing a wig and costume similar to those of Lancret’s cleric, pays court to the Countess.

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The Four Times of Day


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.