Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet is known chiefly for his lithographs – he produced around 2,000 of them – but he also worked in other media, including oil sketches such as this one. Children often appear in his pictures, their spontaneous behaviour gently mocking social customs and pretensions.
In this small painting we see a group of young children being directed into a church by several clergymen dressed in black. The priest in the foreground has a sign pinned to his back that reads ‘Hane’ – a childish misspelling of ‘âne’ (ass). Charlet provides a generalised impression of most of the children, but he singles out a few, most notably the boy on the right, who defiantly faces us with his arms firmly crossed as he smokes a clay pipe. His red cap is perhaps a reference to the red ‘liberty’ caps worn during the French Revolution, which itself had been overtly anti-clerical. The boy behind him also wears a cap with the colours of the French tricolour.
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