Before & After Lovers: Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ & ‘The Letter’

Michel Garnier (1753-1819)

Garnier was court painter to the Duc de Chartes, later Phillipe Egalité, and was afterwards a pupil of premier peinture du roi, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre.  His scenes are taken from aristocratic Parisian life and show up-to-date period fashion. Many of his vignettes, like the scenes below, focus on erotic and romantic sensibilities.

The Poorly Defended Rose | 1789
The Poorly Defended Rose | 1789

‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ is a companion piece to ‘The Letter’.  One is executed in the moments prior to full seduction, just when the gentleman has been assured of his conquest.  The background symbols in the ‘Rose’ indicate her impending loss of virtue.  The vase on the floor is shattered. a book is splayed wide open, and a bird resides safely in its cage high up on the wall.  The gentleman reaches the single blooming rose before she can demur, but her posture remains retractable.  She not sure of what she’s doing, but the result is inevitable.

In ‘The Letter’, the gentleman has sent his lover a miniature portrait to gaze at in his absence.  The letter, presumably, is full of excuses, as the young lady looks unimpressed by his offering.  A posy of roses are set in a gilded vase, indicating multiple rendezvous between the lovers, but the lady’s dress is more somber, her hair grayer and tied with a yellow ribbon, no longer pinned with the blossoms of youth .  Upon the young lady’s prompting, the older woman hunches over for a closer look and in the process knocks over an object on the tea service.

The Letter | 1791close-up
The Letter | 1791
close-up – full size here

Garnier’s work has been compared with Louis-Léopold Boilly’s and Marguerite Gérard’s.  Beyond being a genre painter, very little is known about his life.

The Constant Lover
The Constant Lover  | Louis-Leopold Boilly
Le Petit Messager
Le Petit Messager – Marguerite Gerard

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