Francois Boucher: biography
François Boucher was born in Paris on 29 September 1703. He was the son of a minor painter who earned his living by selling prints and art materials. He learnt his first skills from his father, but soon moved on to the art studio of François Lemoyne, where he worked as an apprentice for several months. He next went to work in the engraving studio of Jean-François Cars. In 1722, the art collector Jean de Julienne asked him to put Watteau’s works to print. Like many other artists of the time, he participated in the Prix de Rome in 1723 in the hope of travelling to Italy. Although he won, he was unable to leave Paris. In 1725, he exhibited some small pictures at the Exposition de la Jeunesse, which proved to be a big success. Finally, in 1728, he was able to leave for Italy together with Carle, François and Louis-Michel van Loo. They stayed at the Villa Medici, home of the Académie di France in Rome. He returned to Paris in 1731 and produced a series of engravings for Julienne under the title of Diverses figures chinoises peintes par Watteau au Château de la Muette. In the same year he entered the Académie des Beaux-Arts as a painter of historical pictures. His first dated painting in 1732 depicted Venus Asking Vulcan for Arms for Aeneas (Louvre). In 1733, he married Marie-Jeanne Buseau, who would be a frequent model for him. From 1734 onwards Boucher began to receive commissions for some very important works such as designs for the Beauvais Tapestry Factory dedicated to the Fêtes italiennes (executed between 1736 and 1762) and the creation of four “grisailles” of the Virtues for the queen’s chambers at Versailles (1735). On 7 July 1737 he became a faculty member of the Académie together with Carle van Loo and Natoire. At the Salons in 1737 and 1738 Boucher presented four pastoral themes and three boudoir panels for the Hôtel de Soubis. In 1741 Count Tessin bought a series of paintings for the Royal Palace in Stockholm. At the Salon in 1742 Boucher exhibited eight sketches with “chinoiseries” created especially for the Beauvais Tapestry Factory. From 1746 to 1753 he worked on decorations for Versailles and Fontainebleu. The most important moment of the artist’s career was in 1751 when he became Madame de Pompadour’s design and engraving teacher. It was under her patronage that the artist began to do a lot of work for the Sèvres Porcelain Factory. In 1755, after having painted the Four Seasons for the Marquise de Pompadour, he was made director of the Goeblins Tapestries. In this period he alternated between painting and engraving and worked side by side with Gilles Demarteau. Although he had an excellent reputation at court and was appointed director of the Académie in 1761, towards the end of his career he came under increasing criticism, in particular from Diderot. In 1765, he was appointed first court painter and in 1767 his appointment as the director of the Académie was confirmed. François Boucher died on 30 May 1770 in his chambers in the Louvre.
Francois Boucher: the works
Rape of Europe
The work is paired with Mercury Confiding the Infant Bacchus to the Nymphs and was taken from a preparatory sketch that is now in the Amiens Museum and was engraved by Pier Aveline (1748) and by Bonivet. After his stay in Italy, Boucher painted the two works for the home of Francois Derbais. The theme, which he would take up again later on in his career (Paris, Louvre, 1747), reflects the superb baroque style he learned while studying in Italy: it is, in fact, set on diagonal axes and the gestures are particularly magniloquent. The mythological theme lacks its aulic character, which has been replaced with graceful and elegant elements that suggest a timid sensuality, made up of languid pleasant gestures.Iconography
Rinaldo and Armida
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy on 30 January 1734 and later loaned to the Sèvres Porcelain Factory (1783). Unfortunately, in 1793 all traces of the painting were lost. It turned up again in the Louvre in 1852 during an inventory. It is the painting that allowed Boucher to enter the Academy as a painter of historical subjects. It depicts the XVI canto of Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. As often happens with mythological themes, especially those inspired by literary texts, the aulic tone is replaced with a luminous and languidly sensual one. According to some experts, Armida is in fact a portrait of Boucher’s young wife.Iconography
Family Taking Breakfast
The scene is of middle-class family life, an interesting change for Boucher. It probably depicts the artist’s own family: his twenty-seven year old wife, whom he also portrayed in Lady Tying her Garter (or: La Toilette), and their two children. The detailed description of the surroundings and the spontaneous gestures of the people give a strong sense of realism to the scene, which makes the spectator feel a part of it. The lighting is very much like the one used by Pieter de Hooch and the whole still life calls to mind the Dutch school. There are two partial preparatory sketches, one in black and red chalk in Chicago and the other at the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
It is a recurring theme for the artist who painted other such works, one in Reims (Musée des Beaux-Arts) and another in the private collection of Otto Edouard Bemberg. The young woman is lying with an absent air about her. She is both sweet and sensual. The unmade bed is an invitation of sorts but it is depicted in a very refined manner: the young woman is very beautiful and not at all vulgar, and the atmosphere graceful.
A Summer Pastoral
The painting is paired with another work in the collection called An Autumn Pastoral. Both works belong to the Daniel-Charles Trudaine Collection, which was later passed on to the Wallace Collection. It was engraved with variations by R. Gaillard. The scene is set in a picturesque landscape full of docile domestic animals. It portrays a young shepherd playing the bagpipes while two young women stand admiring him. The painting is part of the “pastollerie” genre. Boucher blends his refined talent for compositional schemes with gestures that are particularly telling. The work not only depicts the artful seduction of two young women disguised as shepherdesses being followed by a dandy but also represents a luxuriant nature seen as an ideal place where harmony reigns.
An Autumn Pastoral
This painting, along with A Summer Pastoral, was part of the Daniel-Charles Trudaine Collection, which was later passed on to the Wallace Collection. The painting depicts the two themes that Boucher loved most: the idyllic love between young shepherds and shepherdesses amidst the luxuriant opulence of nature, which seems to take part in the seduction. The work is a triumph of different colours: pink, blue, yellow, white, and a background of green blues of trees and grass. The Sèvres Porcelain Factory produced a series of works dedicated to this painting called The Grape Eaters.
Venus Consoling Love
It was part of the collection of the Marquise de Pompadour paired with The Toilet of Venus. It passed from owner to owner until finally in 1943 it was bought by Chester Dale and donated to the gallery. In Venus Consoling Love the goddess no longer recalls the atmosphere of classical painting but is an example of pure physical beauty. Venus is sitting in a luxuriant garden and trying to hold back an angry Cupid while two angels point to the scene with ironic disapproval. Although there are no documents to sustain the theory, the two paintings were most likely part of the decorations of the Castle of Bellevue, which was finished in 1751. In 1792 they were inventoried in the Castle of Choisy, which had been restored in 1766. A sketch of the painting can be admired in the Hermitage at St Petersburg.Iconography
The Painter in his Studio
The painting, which was once a part of the Collet collection, was bequeathed to the museum in 1869. It is very likely a self-portrait of the artist. The painter is inside his art studio, sitting on a low chair in front of an easel; he is wearing work clothes and a strange hat, his face is hidden by the shadows because the light from behind him illuminates the canvas he is working on. The landscape is Italian, maybe to recall Boucher’s stay in the peninsula from 1728 to 1731. A preparatory drawing of the painting can be found in the County Museum in Los Angeles.
This work, along with another three of the other seasons, was part of the Marquise de Pompadour’s collection. Although they do not show up in the Marquise’s inventory they were probably used as decorative boudoir panels in one of her residences. When she died in 1764, the canvases were passed on to her brother the Marquis de Marigny and were part of many different collections before ending up in the Frick Collection in 1916. Earlier works of the seasons usually depicted the different activities done in the different periods of the year, but Boucher chose to depict light-hearted pastimes. He therefore respects the fetes galantes tradition introduced by Watteau. Love of life makes even winter a happy time. The snow offers the opportunity to do carefree activities such as skating and sledding. Everything seems ethereal and fast, almost as if it were set to music.
Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour
It is one of the many portraits of Boucher’s patroness. Janne-Antoinette Poisson was born in Paris in 1721. She was introduced at court in 1745 and immediately became Louis XV’s favourite. She was a culturally refined woman with a love for music and the theatre. She had an enormous influence on the king. She died of cancer in 1764. The small painting depicts the Marquise standing in her studio playing the spinet. Books, brushes and a globe, which clearly underline her very numerous interests, surround her.
A man offering grape to a girl
1768A man offering grape to a girl, along with Cherry Pickers has been in English collections since the end of the 18th century. Boucher is definitely at his best when portraying the “pastorellerie”. These pastoral scenes delighted the public and became the subjects for paintings, furnishings, porcelain and various other kinds of decoration. The pastoral landscape is the background for love and gallantry. Most critics agree that these subjects reflect the characteristic longing of the culture of that period to escape to a new Arcadia where lost harmony invariably reigns.