18th C Art / Eighteenth Century / History / Paintings

The Alarm, or Attention to Detail

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be wandering around the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This museum is one of my absolute favourites; there is art, textiles, furniture, interior design, clothing etc. There is also a lot of porcelain but I manage to avoid that most of the time!

This time round my eye was caught by a painting called The Alarm or The Loyal Servant by one Jean-Francois de Troy.

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The Alarm or The Loyal Servant, Jean-Francois de Troy, 1723 (Oil on canvas). Image thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

De Troy specialised in authentic portrayals of the leisure time of the Parisian elite in the late 18th Century. In this painting an amorous couple, during a secret rendezvous, are interrupted by a maid or female companion.

The careful, playful composition of the painting brought a smile to my face. For example, notice how the woman’s hand is placed over the mouth of the mask atop the fountain signalling the clandestine nature of the meeting. Though both of the couple are fully clothed and calm, the echoing of the woman’s position with the naked nymph above her gives the image a certain eroticism. The nymph’s face is also turned away, letting the couple have total privacy.

I love paintings of clothes, I think they are so interesting (to see more this look no further!) and de Troy is known for his detailed clothes and furniture. Here the luxurious fabric of the woman’s dress contrasts with the earthy tones used in the rest of the painting, and thus draws the eye. Her skirt is spread across the stone seat allowing the artist to display his prowess in crafting the folds of the material. The gentlemanly lover is not forgotten, quite the opposite, his dress is also treated carefully. We can see the attention paid to the embroidery on his waistcoat, his coat is turned back to display it, and it looks almost three dimensional. Can you see how the satin-y lining of the coat is reflecting the blue of the waistcoat? Amazing. At the bottom of the picture, in dusky shadow, a buckle glints at us from one dangling foot.

People say that de Troy’s paintings are based on his own personal experiences, if this is true he probably had much to thank this loyal servant for!

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The Alarm or The Loyal Servant, detail.

If you want to learn more about the symbolism of certain clothes in the Eighteen Century, and why wouldn’t you?, then click right here.

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