I owe this post in its entirety to the kindly gentleman @Dezilvereneeuw who sent Philibert-Louis Debucourt’s reproduction work of ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ my way. This version, ‘La Rose Mal Défendue’, dates from 1791, the year Michel Garnier painted ‘The Letter’, his follow-up work to ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’.
The fantastic thing about Debucourt’s ‘Rose’ is the spin he’s put on the vignette. What’s different? First off, the lovers have been transported to the bedroom. The seduction appears to have been a fevered pursuit–our (anti) gentleman is practically yanking off the lady’s shawl. But–and this is so lovely–the lady is in possession of the rose. Is she going to give it away freely? Or will the gentleman overcome her? I do wonder; she has a coy expression. Methinks this lady doth not protest enough!
Debucourt’s foreground also mirrors Garnier’s. Almost every prop is in disarray, from the tipped chair and hat to the rumpled bedding and ribbon/sash spilling from a drawer. Interestingly, the book in Debucourt’s version is closed. @Dezilvereneeuw has pointed out that Garnier’s book is believed to be a songbook, which makes sense given the caged bird (does it sing?) and the lovers who will soon sing a song together. All and all I think I prefer the theme of Debucourt’s over Garnier’s. The 18th century was rife with depictions of women being taken advantage of, and it’s refreshing to see a lady with a bit more agency than a Pamela or a Clarissa.
What do my readers think? I’d love to hear it.
If you missed the post on Michel Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ and ‘The Letter’, find it here.
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’ 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.
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.