Born on this Day: François Boucher

Having caught the autumnal lurgy which seems to be making its way around the city at the moment, I was off work yesterday. This meant that I’ve been pipped to the post by the V&A’s Facebook page in marking the birthday of the French court painter, draughtsman and etcher François Boucher.

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I’ve refrained from changing the title to ‘Born Yesterday’ as it doesn’t sound quite right (!), but here is my belated-birthday blog post for François Boucher, born 29th September 1703. An artist who, arguably more than any other, set his stamp on both the fine and decorative arts of the 18th century.

Portrait of François Boucher, reception piece by Gustaf Lundberg for the Académie Royale de Peinture presented on January 28, 1741. Musée du Louvre

Portrait of François Boucher, reception piece by Gustaf Lundberg for the Académie Royale de Peinture presented on January 28, 1741. Musée du Louvre

The son of Nicolas Boucher, a minor painter and lace-designer, François Boucher was briefly apprenticed by the painter François Lemoyne before going to work for the engraver Jean-François Cars.

Eve Tempting Adam by François Lemoyne, engraved by Louis Charles Château, published 1781. V&A E.187-1941

Eve Tempting Adam by François Lemoyne (whom Boucher was briefly apprenticed to), engraved by Louis Charles Château, published 1781. V&A E.187-1941

In 1720 he won the elite Grand Prix de Rome for painting. However, due to financial problems at the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, he was unable to take advantage of the resulting opportunity to study in Italy until five years later.

Self-portrait in the Studio, François Boucher, 1720. Musée du Louvre

Self-portrait in the Studio, François Boucher, 1720. Musée du Louvre

On his return from Italy Boucher was admitted to the re-founded Académie de peinture et de sculpture in 1731, becoming a faculty member in 1734. His career then saw a meteoric ascent as he quickly become a Professor and then Rector of the Academy. He became head of the Royal Gobelins Manufactory in 1755 and by 1765 was appointed to the two highest positions in the French arts establishment – Premier Peintre du Roi (First Painter of the King) and director of the Académie royale.

The influence of the Italian countryside and 17th century Dutch landscape painters can often be found in Boucher’s early works, with their celebration of the idyllic and tranquil portrayal of nature and landscape. His work also reflects some inspiration from painters such as Rubens, Watteau and Lancret.

'The Swing (L'Escarpolette)',  oil painting, Nicolas  Lancret, Paris, 1730s. V&A 515-1882

‘The Swing (L’Escarpolette)’, oil painting, Nicolas Lancret, Paris, 1730s. V&A 515-1882 – This will be on display in the Europe Galleries.

On his return from Italy, Boucher increasingly turned his attention to large-scale mythological painting and soon found official recognition in the form of royal commissions. Mythological subjects provided an excuse for Boucher to use amorous or pastoral themes. His work soon graced the walls of an impressive clientele, including King Louis XV, the Marquise de Pompadour, and Count Carl Gustav Tessin, Swedish ambassador to Paris. The Marquise de Pompadour (mistress of King Louis XV) was a great admirer of Boucher’s work and, as his patron, their names both became synonymous with Rococo art.

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, oil on canvas, François Boucher, 1758. V&A 487-1882

One of the star pieces going into the Europe Galleries. Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, oil on canvas, François Boucher, 1758. V&A 487-1882

Boucher’s most original contribution to Rococo painting was his reinvention of the pastoral genre. He depicted rural scenes with figures, such as shepherds and shepherdesses, as sentimental lovers but introduced an elegant eroticism into traditional ideas of rural innocence, producing intimately amorous scenes within idealised landscapes.

Autumn Pastoral, François Boucher, 1749. Wallace Collection

Autumn Pastoral, François Boucher, 1749. Wallace Collection

This re-imagining of the pastoral became one of the hallmarks of the Rococo movement, with Boucher’s attractive subjects coming to epitomise the fashionable French Rococo style. His approach to decorative art subject matter dominated French painting until the emergence of neoclassical style towards the end of the century. The 19th-century naturalist writers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt nicely summarised Boucher’s prominence and influence on the decorative arts in the 18th century: “Boucher is one of those men who represent the taste of a century, who express, personify and embody it.”

'Pastorale', oil painting, François Boucher, 1763. VA 374-1901

‘Pastorale’, oil painting, François Boucher, 1763. VA 374-1901 – This will be on display in the Europe Galleries.

Boucher was an astonishingly prolific painter and draughtsman – he once claimed to have produced around 10,000 drawings. At a time when most of Europe sought to follow the fashions of the French court, Boucher’s numerous drawings, paintings and designs helped to satisfy public demand for fashionable imitable imagery.

rawing, François Boucher, Young maiden with cupids,  crowning a heart on the altar of friendship, French  school, 1750s. V&A DYCE.595

Young maiden with cupids, crowning a heart on the altar of friendship, drawing by François Boucher, 1750s. V&A DYCE.595

Boucher was both proficient and canny at marketing his work. He created designs for all manner of decorative arts, including porcelain and textiles and also designed theatre costumes and sets.

He spent around twenty years involved with the Beauvais tapestry workshops, for whom he produced a number of tapestry designs. However, his appointment as head of the rival Gobelins Manufactory in 1755 meant that he had to rather abruptly end this association.

A snap-shot detail of 'La Bohémienne', a wool and silk tapestry made by the Beauvais Tapestry Factory to designs by François Boucher, 1738-1759. V&A T.216-1972

A snap-shot detail of ‘La Bohémienne’, a wool and silk tapestry designed by François Boucher and made by the Beauvais Tapestry Factory, 1738-1759. V&A T.216-1972

Giltwood settee, French, in Louis XVI style, 1870-1900,  upholstered with Beauvais  tapestry ca. 1760-733 V&A 465-1895 The scenes on both woollen tapestry panels are  pastoral, with lovers with a birdcage (La pipeé aux  oiseaux  or 'the bird-catcher on the back and a scene of  a peasant moving a barrel on a barrow on the seat (Le  brouetteur  or 'The barrow-man'/. These are scenes  from the series Les Beaux Pastorales  or La Noble  Pastorale , a six-piece tapestry series woven fifteen  times between 1755 and 1778.  It was designed by  François Boucher (1703-70) for the Beauvais  manufactory.

Giltwood settee, French, in Louis XVI style, 1870-1900, upholstered with Beauvais tapestry ca. 1760. The pastoral scenes on both woollen tapestry panels of this settee were designed by François Boucher for the Beauvais manufactory. They are taken from the series ‘Les Beaux Pastorales’ or ‘La Noble Pastorale’, a six-piece tapestry series woven fifteen times between 1755 and 1778.  V&A 465-1895

Boucher’s designs were extensively copied and reproduced by decorative artists and printmakers, for whom it could prove to be a rather lucrative business, helping his designs to be disseminated throughout Europe.

Landscape miniature of a pastoral scene, after Bouchers The Love Letter, watercolour on ivory, attributed to Pierre Antoine Baudouin (1723-1769).

Landscape miniature of a pastoral scene, after Boucher’s ‘The Love Letter’ (1750), watercolour on ivory, attributed to Pierre Antoine Baudouin (1723-1769), France, 1750-69. V&A 729-1882

'La Marchande de Modes', engraving with eight lines of  verse, engraved by R. Gaillard, after Francois Boucher, France, ca. 1755. V&A  E.361-1905

‘La Marchande de Modes’, engraving with eight lines of verse, engraved by R. Gaillard, after François Boucher, France, ca. 1755. V&A E.361-1905

Tête de Flore, colour etching in the  crayon manner with mezzotint, by Louis-Marin Bonnet, after François  Boucher, 1769. VA 540-1882

‘Tête de Flore’, colour etching in the crayon manner with mezzotint, by Louis-Marin Bonnet, after François Boucher, 1769. V&A 540-1882

Porcelain manufactures (including Vincennes, Sévres and Meissen) were kept busy with the replication of figures and scenes from his work as porcelain figurines and painted decoration on tableware and other pieces.

Figure group in soft-paste  porcelain, painted with enamels and gilded, of a male  youth and a girl offering each other grapes, made by William Duesbury & Co., Derby, ca. 1775. The grouping was adapted from an engraving by Jacques Phillipe Le Bas, after a painting by Boucher entitled 'Pensent-ils  au raisin?' V&A 414:423-1885

Figure group in soft-paste porcelain, painted with enamels and gilded, of a male youth and a girl offering each other grapes, made by William Duesbury & Co., Derby, ca. 1775. The grouping was adapted from an engraving by Jacques Phillipe Le Bas, after a painting by Boucher entitled ‘Pensent-ils au raisin?’ V&A 414:423-1885

'La Lanterne Magique', figure group in biscuit porcelain of children with a peep- show, modelled by Étienne- Maurice Falconet (after a print  derived from a tapestry design by François Boucher), made by Sèvres porcelain  factory, Sèvres, ca. 1757. V&A 414:428-1885

‘La Lanterne Magique’, figure group in biscuit porcelain of children with a peep- show, modelled by Étienne- Maurice Falconet (after a print derived from a tapestry design by François Boucher), made by Sèvres porcelain factory, Sèvres, ca. 1757. V&A 414:428-1885

Soft-paste porcelain plate, painted in enamels and gilt,  made by Sèvres porcelain factory, France, about 1785. The central scene 'Les Bacchantes endormies',  was taken from an engraving by Rene Gaillard, after Francois Boucher. V&A C.452-1921

Soft-paste porcelain plate, painted in enamels and gilt, made by Sèvres porcelain factory, France, about 1785. The central scene ‘Les Bacchantes endormies’, was taken from an engraving by Rene Gaillard, after François Boucher. V&A C.452-1921

Boucher’s pastoral scenes were particularly popular in the form of furnishing fabrics.

Detail of 'The Art of Loving' or 'The Pleasant  Lesson'. Copper plate-printed cotton furnishing fabric, possibly made  by Favre Petitpierre et Cie, Nantes, France, ca. 1785- 1790. Three of the scenes come from paintings  by Boucher (1703-70)  - The Pleasant Lesson  (1748) and The Lovers  Surprised  (1748), both engraved by René Gaillard in 1758, and a now lost painting. V&A T.73-1964

Detail of ‘The Art of Loving’ or ‘The Pleasant Lesson’. Copper plate-printed cotton furnishing fabric, possibly made by Favre Petitpierre et Cie, Nantes, France, ca. 1785- 1790. Three of the scenes come from paintings by Boucher (1703-70) – The Pleasant Lesson (1748) and The Lovers Surprised (1748), both engraved by René Gaillard in 1758, and a now lost painting. V&A T.73-1964

His designs can be found replicated and adapted in various forms for a vast range of objects, including book illustrations, fans, snuff boxes, reliefs and plaques.

Gilded copper alloy plaque depicting a love scene after an illustration by F. Boucher. Plaque signed and dated by 'P Suther', Paris, 1748. V&A M.310-1919

Gilded copper alloy plaque depicting a love scene after an illustration by Boucher. Plaque signed and dated by ‘P Suther’, Paris, 1748. V&A M.310-1919

Boucher also produced sets of prints that adapted decorative depictions of Chinese figures for Rococo sensibilities, this helped to both encourage and disseminate the fashion for chinoiserie designs across Europe.

The Meissen factory in Saxony made several models, including this one, after a series of chinoiserie designs by Boucher entitled 'Les  Délices de L'Enfance' (The Delights of Childhood), inspired by engravings by J.J. Balechou. V&A C.6-1978

The Meissen factory in Saxony made several models, including this one, after a series of chinoiserie designs by Boucher entitled ‘Les Délices de L’Enfance’ (The Delights of Childhood), inspired by engravings by J.J. Balechou. V&A C.6-1978 – This will be on display in the Europe Galleries.

Boucher’s vast number of private commissions for wealthy collectors helped to determine his impressive influence on the decorative arts of this period and assure him a lasting notoriety. Very much a man ‘at the top of his game’ for the majority of his career, it was only as the growing fashion for Neoclassical design began to take hold towards the end of the century that his popularity began to wain.

Contemporary criticisms of Boucher’s work became more audible, as increasing numbers voiced their dislike of his artificiality and repetitious use of set motifs – Boucher once famously objected to the idea of painting directly from nature on the grounds that it was ‘too green and badly lit’. Denis Diderot famously wrote of Boucher in his review of the 1761 Salon ‘That man is capable of everything—except the truth’.

During the later years of his career, Boucher also came under increasing attack for the more licentious elements of his work, which were found to be particularly objectionable in the context of an increasingly strict moral climate in Paris.

This painting prompted art critic Denis Diderot to claim that Boucher was "prostituting his own wife".his reputation came under increasing critical attack during the last years of his career L'Odalisque, François Boucher, ca.1749. Musée du Louvre

This painting prompted art critic Denis Diderot to claim that Boucher was “prostituting his own wife” – his reputation came under increasing critical attack during the last years of his career L’Odalisque, François Boucher, ca.1749. Musée du Louvre

In some ways, Boucher could be considered a victim of his own success. With such widespread use of his designs and style across Europe, it was perhaps inevitable that his popularity would reach ‘saturation point’ and provoke a backlash. Boucher essentially outlived his appeal. He continued to work right up to his death in 1770, refusing to adapt the style of his work to changing fashions.

Despite his fall from fashion, Boucher’s considerable legacy of delicate, seductive, dream-like environments continue to beguile today. I was particularly taken by a description I recently read online, that Boucher makes us ‘long for a time that never was, a world that never could be real’.

Study of two Cupids reclining on  clouds, chalk on paper, François Boucher, France, 18th century. V&A DYCE.594

Study of two Cupids reclining on clouds, chalk on paper, François Boucher, France, 18th century. V&A DYCE.594

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