Carl Gustaf Tessin (1695-1770) was a Swedish Count and diplomat who acted as Swedish ambassador in Paris from 1739 to 1742. An avid and passionate collector of paintings and drawings, the majority of his collection is now housed in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Whilst in Paris Tessin became acquainted with the leading artists and collectors of the day, including Pierre-Jean Mariette and François Boucher. He commissioned many works directly from the artists he met, including Boucher’s Triumph of Venus which he acquired in 1740 for 1600 livres, a great price at that time, indicative of the ambitious nature of the commission.
As Count Tessin's Boucher acquisitions grew so too did their friendship. Their relationship was more than just patron and artist, and as Pontus Grate remarked 'it did not take long before the social and amiable master and his pretty wife became habitués in the Tessin salon, at Quai des Théatins.'1
The Triumph of Venus certainly struck a chord with the Swedish Count and his reaction to it is revealed in a letter to his most revered friend, the architect, Carl Harleman (1700-1753): as Tessin exclaimed, ‘Boucher m’a fait une naissance de Vénus: Cospetto ! Che bella Cosa ! Il n’a des yeux que comme les votres qui en soient dignes.’2 (Boucher has painted for me a Birth of Venus: My what a beautiful thing! Only eyes such as yours are worthy of it).
The Berger drawing purely focuses on the Triton and concentrates on the complex pose Boucher has chosen for his composition. With his back to us, the Triton is almost like one of Boucher’s academy nude studies. Great attention has been paid to the musculature of his twisted back and his head is turned as he raises his arms to lift the nymph. The use of trois crayon has enabled Boucher to carefully model the Triton’s form, creating a powerful and attractive image.
Boucher’s Triumph of Venus recently featured as one of the undisputed stars of the exhibition on Count Tessin and his collections, held at the Louvre, and subsequently at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York (Un Suédois a Paris au XVIII siècle – La Collection Tessin/Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collection of Count Tessin). The Berger drawing will be published by Colin B. Bailey in a forthcoming article in the Art Bulletin of the Nationalmuseum Stockholm: '“Cospetto! Che bella cosa!” My what a beautiful thing, Boucher’s Triumph of Venus in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.’
We are grateful to Alastair Laing, who, from recently seeing the original, has reaffirmed the attribution to Boucher.
1. François Boucher: Paintings, Drawings and Prints from the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, exhib. cat., Manchester, City Art Gallery 1984, p. 4 under Pontus Grate's 'Boucher Acquisitions in Eighteenth Century Sweden'
2. Un Suédois à Paris au XVIIIe siècle: La Collection Tessin, exhib. cat., Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2016, p. 68, under no. 17
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