His sale, Paris, Bonnefons, 14–15 April 1846, lot 3;
Probably Adalbert, Freiherr von Lanna (1836–1909), Prague;
His son, Albert, Freiherr von Lanna (1867–1922), Munich;
His posthumous sale, Berlin, P. Cassirer & H. Helbing, 6 November 1929, lot 56;
Dr. Raoul de Preux, Lausanne;
Thence by descent to Christine-Marie-Michelle de Preux, Lausanne;
Her posthumous sale, London, Sotheby's, 9 December 2009, lot 39;
Where acquired by the present owner.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne and Paris 1976, vol. I, p. 246, cat. no. 120, reproduced fig. 442;
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan 1980, p. 94, cat. no. 121, reproduced.
In the 1720s Boucher had painted a number of Old Testament scenes, such as the Sacrifice of Gideon, today in the Louvre, Paris.1 He afterwards eschewed such subjects, however, presumably largely due to the ample demand for the secular, pastoral scenes for which he became so famed. As is evident in the present painting, many of the small-format, religious scenes that Boucher executed up until the 1730s were already galant in spirit, and rather than intended for ecclesiastical buildings, they were sought after by the same private patrons who came to acquire his non-religious works.
Boucher did return to devotional, New Testament subject matter with his Adoration of the Shepherds (or 'La Lumière du Monde') for Madame de Pompadour's chapel in Château de Bellevue in 1745,2 but his concern for a painterly evocation of atmosphere and picturesque design, rather than the faithful transcription of biblical events in the traditional manner of the history paintings of many of his contemporaries, is perhaps the reason why only three other church commissions by his hand ever came to be realised.3
The Vicomte de Plinval owned another monochrome sketch by Boucher – an oval canvas en grisaille, of 1769, depicting Neptune and Amphitrite – lot 2 in his sale of 1846, today in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper.4 Boucher made frequent use of monochrome oil sketches, en grisaille, particularly for preparatory works for engravings, and en camaïeu brun, which he tended to use in preparation for large canvases or tapestries. The present work would not appear to fulfil either of these purposes, however, and the canvas stands as a finished, nuanced painting in its own right. Boucher employs not only the full spectrum of grey-green tones, but also subtle blue tints in the sky and clouds, and delicate pink blushes in the flesh tones. This handling and technique is likewise found in the Study for a Monument to a Princely Figure.5
We are grateful to Alastair Laing for endorsing the attribution to Boucher on the basis of photographs, and for his help in the cataloguing of this lot.
1. See A. Laing, P. Rosenberg et al., François Boucher 1703–1770, exh. cat., Paris 1986, pp. 109–12, cat. no. 6, reproduced in colour p. 110.
2. Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, inv. no. 1955-106; see Ananoff 1976, vol. II, p. 38, cat. no. 340, reproduced fig. 979.
3. Saint John the Baptist Preaching and Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water, both for the Cathédrale Saint Louis at Versailles (see Ananoff 1976, vol. II, pp. 221–22 and 231, cat. nos 562 and 579, reproduced figs 1528 and 1567); and Saint John the Baptist in the Desert, for Madame de Pompadour's chapel in the Capuchin Convent, Paris, today in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, inv. no. 75.8 (see A. Laing, P. Rosenberg et al. 1986, p. 302, under cat. no. 77, reproduced fig. 191). For further discussion, see M. Schiede, in Rethinking Boucher, M. Hyde and M. Ledbury (eds), Los Angeles 2006, pp. 64ff.
4. See Ananoff 1976, vol. II, p. 293, cat. no. 669, reproduced p. 295, fig. 669.
5. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no. 07.225.291; see Ananoff 1976, vol. II, p. 226, cat. no. 571, reproduced fig. 1548.
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