- François Boucher
- Study of a man holding a hammer, half length
- Red chalk
- 191 by 185 mm; 7 1/2 by 7 1/4 in.
sale, London, Christie's, 2 July 1996, lot 242,
where acquired by Bernadette and William M.B. Berger, Denver, Colorado
Boucher, like his French contemporaries and predecessors, was trained to draw from life, and from the abundance of Académie studies that survive we can see how this practice was a vital part of their training (see lot 31 for an example of an Academy nude by the Bolognese artist, Guercino). The present red chalk figure is a study, in reverse, for the blacksmith on the left of Boucher’s painting, Venus in Vulcan’s Forge, dated 1747, now in the Louvre, Paris (fig. 1).1 The fact that the figure is reversed in the painting may suggest that the Berger study was an early idea which was later adapted and that Boucher possibly chose to use a counterproof of the present sheet to aid him in his final composition. While the drawing is ultimately a study for Boucher’s painting and may not have been executed in situ at an Academy class, the rendering of the torso and the understanding of anatomy demonstrates the importance of these classes in the development of the aspiring artist.
Venus in Vulcan’s Forge was exhibited in the Salon of 1747 (where it was noted as being oval in shape); however, the painting was initially commissioned in 1746 by the Directeur Général des Bâtiments, M. Tournehem (together with three other paintings) for the apartments of the newly-wed dauphin at Versailles. It appears that in the early days of the commission plans changed and the project was reduced to two paintings from the original plan of four. From a mémoire of the artist we learn that two paintings were commissioned for the King’s bedroom at Marly and some scholars believe that these two works were part of the original plan for the apartments at Versailles. In Boucher’s mémoire there is a brief description of these works, one seemingly describing The Apotheosis of Aeneas (now in a private collection in Massachusetts) and the other as Venus in Vulcan’s Forge (Paris, Louvre). For a full account of this project see J. Fack, 'The Apotheosis of Aeneas: a lost Royal Boucher rediscovered', The Burlington Magazine, CXIX, 1977, pp. 829-30.
Another drawing depicting the middle blacksmith, with his hammer raised above his head, in the trio in the background of Venus in Vulcan’s Forge, was sold in these Rooms in 1991.2 One can also compare the present drawing with Boucher’s study for A Triton in the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Collection in the Art Institute of Chicago.3 The handling of the chalk and the concentration of the figure’s gaze is very close to the Berger blacksmith.
Boucher has captured the intensity of his blacksmith as he grips the hammer in both hands. His understanding of the male physique is apparent through the rendering of the muscles. This is a gritty, masculine study, showing another facet of Boucher’s talent and perhaps the most acute in terms of realism amongst the group of drawings by Boucher from the Berger collection offered in this sale.
1. A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Paris 1976, Vol. I, cat. no. 302, reproduced p. 412
2. Study of a man raising a hammer, sale, New York, Sotheby's, 8 January 1991, lot 170
3. François Boucher in North American Collections: 100 Drawings, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1974, cat. no. 69