The composition depicts a bucolic rural scene, with a couple and two young children gently navigating their way down a river in a small boat. Somewhat further downstream a ruddy-cheeked young man stands on the bank, fishing rod in hand, with his attention focused on the rippleless pool of water in front of him, in which, he believes, his quarry lies. Beyond the fisherman, up on the bank of the river, the scene of rural bliss continues with a shepherd reclining on the grass surrounded by his flock, whilst some of the more adventurous animals begin to make their way onto the bridge, from which this picture derives its name. The scene is framed on either side by rustic farmhouses, which appear sufficiently dilapidated, yet pictorially alluring enough to have appealed to the whimsy of the royal and aristocratic classes of 18th Century France – Boucher’s illustrious clientele.
Beyond its obvious aesthetic qualities, the present work also sheds further light on Boucher’s working methods, given that it repeats, though on a far more intimate scale, an oil painting of the same subject, now only known through a number of studio copies and prints, including an engraving by Jean Claude Richard, Abbé de Saint-Non (fig.1), all after the lost original.2 While the copies and prints all suggest that the composition enjoyed considerable popularity during Boucher’s own lifetime,3 the survival and very existence of a signed gouache also, as Alastair Laing has suggested, points towards the present work being the result of a very specific "commission from a person of considerable importance to Boucher – very possibly someone such as the Dauphine".4 Laing further elaborates that a commission of this degree of importance "might also account for there being no record of it (by way of provenance)" as "it would not have featured in the accounts of the Crown, nor would it have appeared on the market".5
The one thing that is absolutely certain is that the reappearance of this exquisite gouache is both an exciting and rare opportunity for further light to be shed on this highly unusual aspect of Boucher’s graphic style, as well as an exceptionally rare opportunity to acquire a work that is totally unique in the artist’s illustrious oeuvre.
We are grateful to Alastair Laing, who, having examined the drawing in the original, has reaffirmed the attribution to Boucher.
1. Inv. no. 2005.16
2. A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Paris 1976, vol. II, pp. 150-151, cat. nos. 476/1a, 476/2, 476/4 – 476/14, figs. 1323-1324
3. The earliest print appears to have been an etching by Saint-Non that is dated to 1757 and described as “Gravé d’après le Tableau de M.r Boucher qui est dans l’appartement de Monsieur le Dauphin à Versailles”.
4. Letter of 25 September 2013
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