Boucher, François

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Boucher, François (1703-1770). French Painter.

François Boucher produced the most characteristic art of the Rococo style and defined the art of the reign of King Louis XV. As the official painter of the King, he was also closely affiliated with the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He contributed to the spread of the Rococo style throughout the European aristocracy, who looked upon this style as a reflection of the French court and the epitome of aesthetic refinement. This prolific artist worked in many media and had such dexterity in paint application, he was able to retain the fresh appearance of an original sketch in his finished works. Boucher was regarded as the best representative of French taste.

Boucher was a Parisian born into a poor family. At the age of seventeen, his talent attracted the attention of a prestigious member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the government sponsored institution for the instruction of artists and the perpetuation of the officially sanctioned style. With this influential connection, Boucher was allowed to exhibit in the Royal Academy by 1723.

In 1731, after returning from Italy, he worked on perfecting his history paintings with the intent of gaining membership into the Royal Academy and which was achieved by 1734. This marked the beginning of a period of professional and financial success and within one year, he received a commission from the King, which encouraged other aristocrats to seek his work. Most of the paintings produced during this period were portraits and decorations for palace walls representing ancient mythology and genre scenes, the depiction of ordinary people in everyday life.

Boucher also painted pastoral genre scenes, a subject of his own invention, but inspired by Italian Renaissance representations of shepherds and shepherdesses set in idyllic landscapes. However, Boucher's shepherds and shepherdesses were lovers, elegantly coifed and dressed, with aristocratic bearing, which was very appealing to the courts of Europe. These peasants inhabited an idealized world far removed from the harsh realities of their actual lives and without implications of social unrest. The Wooden Shoes, from 1768, is typical, representing a shepherdess, with breasts exposed, feeding cherries to her lover. The blooming flowers surrounding them symbolize their budding passions.

Many of Boucher's paintings depicted children as allegories, such as symbols of the times of day, times of year or labors of the seasons. His Cherub Harvesters, from about 1730, shows four such children frolicking in freshly cut hay. This subject was called "enfants de Boucher"--cherubs or cupids, sometimes winged, another of his inventions.

In 1735, Boucher received his first commission from the King. Royal favors led to Boucher's appointment as tapestry designer at Beauvais in 1736 and in 1755, he was named inspector of productions at the Gobelins tapestry factory. The tapestries, designed after his drawings, were purchased throughout the courts of Europe. Boucher's pastoral genre scenes were copied at the porcelain factories at Sevres and Vincennes and inspired theater stage designs.

Boucher's contemporaries admired his paintings of mythology. Diana after the Bath, dated 1742, which shows the nude goddess preparing for her bath and attended by a nymph. His technical mastery is revealed in contrasts of satins, velvets, flowering vegetation and voluptuous female flesh. The erotic quality of his partially dressed or entirely nude females, engaged in the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures, appealed to an aristocracy wishing to realize these fantasies in their actual lives.

In 1742, Boucher received a pension from the crown and ten years later a residence in the Louvre Palace, beginning a close relationship with the King and his mistress, the Pompadour, Marquise de. Of the many portraits he painted of her, the one from 1759 is most typical of Rococo portraiture. He represented her standing in a garden surrounded by flowers, wearing elegant, fashionable dress. Under her patronage and influence, Boucher directed his subject matter toward erotic, mythological nudes, sentimental love stories or children acting out adult activities.

After the Marquise de Pompadour died in 1764, Boucher was appointed First Painter to the King and Director of the Royal Academy. Yet during the height of his popularity, he suffered harsh criticism from Diderot, Denis, who abhorred his frivolous, erotic subjects and lack of social responsibility. His position as the major artistic representative of the monarchy continued until the taste for the new Neo-Classical style turned the art world against him. He remained unpopular for almost a century; it is believed that of the nineteenth-century artists studying the masters in the Louvre, only the Impressionist, Berthe Morisot studied the paintings of Boucher.

Further Reading:

Alexandre Ananoff and Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher: Catalogue raisonné, 1976.

Georges Brunel, Boucher, 1986.

Lynne Lokensgard

Lamar University