François Boucher’s pastoral scenes form a large part of the artist’s oeuvre and he wholeheartedly adopted this genre of painting, creating his own unique formula quite different from the archaic template that was often associated with ‘The Pastoral.’ His settings and backdrops were often a mixture of his plein air studies combined with later studio embellishments. Boucher used this genre to his advantage creating his own beguiling rococo recipe, lending his works that fantastical sparkle, so adored by many.
This formula is very evident in the present study, where Boucher has chosen to place his protagonists in an intriguing trio that leaves the viewer guessing as to what romantic associations may be taking place. In fact the trio in the final painting differs rather from the sketch. In the drawing we see the suitor on bended knee holding the arm of the young woman seated in full profile, while another young lady is nestled provocatively behind. In the painting, Boucher has moved the young lady, in the middle of the trio in his drawing, to the front of the group, where she reclines against her female companion, her full figure revealed as she stretches out. It is now no longer clear who the suitor on bended knee is addressing. In the oil, Boucher has also introduced an ambiguous, and rather coy, element: the reclining female figure wags her finger at the advancing gentleman. Alastair Laing has observed that the figures in the drawing are in more rustic attire than their counterparts in the final painting, where they are dressed in a manner that is more galant than pastoral. Laing also remarks that the artist must have made another, more finished, drawing before executing the oil painting now in the Louvre. According to Ananoff, the painting was supposedly in the collection of Louis XV and was commissioned by the King in 1737, but Alastair Laing doubts this provenance, which is not supported by any evidence or documentation.2
Just as was the case for his works of other types, the popularity of Boucher’s pastorals meant that many of his images were disseminated in other media. François Aveline (1718-c. 1787) must have used this drawing as the model for his engraving of the same subject, in reverse, published in 1742, as although the composition has acquired an ornamental surround, it includes the figures in their preliminary positions, as seen in the Barnet drawing.3
At the time of the Masson sale in 1923, the Barnet drawing had a pendant, an oval black chalk sketch of two couples playing on a see-saw (‘La Bascule’), and these drawings remained together until 1967.4 The present whereabouts of La Bascule is, however, unknown and no painting of that subject has emerged.
We are grateful to Alastair Laing, who, having examined the drawing in the original, has reaffirmed the attribution to Boucher.
1. Ananoff, op.cit.,1976, vol. 1, pp. 266-7, no. 147, reproduced p. 267
2. Exhib. cat., op. cit., 1999, under no. 23, p. 54, footnote 2
3. Jean-Richard, op.cit.,pp. 77-78, no. 197, reproduced
4. Exhib. cat., op. cit., 1999, p. 54, fig. 23.3
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