This exquisite drawing, signed and dated by the artist and executed on an ambitious scale, whilst simultaneously demonstrating draughtsmanship of the highest quality, is an archetypal expression of Boucher’s vision of female grace and, according to Alastair Laing who has recently examined it in the original, unquestionably the finest of the nine versions of this composition known to exist.
Traditionally identified as a portrait of Madame de Pompadour, it is perhaps unsurprising that such a desirable depiction should have resulted in the creation of multiple versions, of varying degrees of quality and proximity to Boucher’s own hand. Those versions that warrant further mention include a drawing, published by Ananoff as the prime example of this figure, said to have been in the collections of the marquis de Chennevières and Marius Paulme, and seen most recently at auction in 1974, but no longer considered an authentic drawing by Boucher.1 Other related works include drawings in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm,2 the Städel Museum, Frankfurt3 and the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg,4 as well as further sheets, known to both Laing and Françoise Joulie, that remain in private collections, including one, inferior to the present work, included by Joulie in the exhibition at Gammel Holtegård in 2013.5
The most remarkable aspect of this extremely refined drawing is its highly finished, pictorial character. It combines great delicacy in the treatment of the face, the hands and lace ruff, with a painterly freedom in the use of white to convey the crisp, shining folds of the skirt. The effect is sumptuous. The graceful self-possession of the young woman depicted creates a sense of an entirely autonomous work, even though she gestures with her right hand to beyond the picture frame. The example of the figure in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, is one of at least three versions that are or were paired with a pendant depicting A young woman seen from the back holding a fan,6 a figure that is found in the painting La Fontaine d’Amour,7 now in the Getty Museum, as well as in the first of six tapestries from the series La Noble Pastorale. The dress and the hair are indeed similar in these two depictions of young women, which raises the possibility that they were worked up by Boucher from earlier studies as companion pieces but, unlike the Young Woman with a fan, this Young Woman seen in Profile, has not been connected to any other known drawing, painting or tapestry design by the artist and would appear to exist in her own right. Alastair Laing finds this surprising and remains perplexed by certain aspects of the drawing, such as its unique nature within Boucher’s œuvre, and the lack of any record of it, or other known versions, in the 18th century.
Laing has, however, recently reconfirmed that the present drawing has the earliest secure provenance of the known versions, coming from the celebrated collection of the marquis de Cypierre (1784-1844), who owned at least twenty seven drawings and pastels by Boucher as well as eight paintings. In the Cypierre sale, the present work was sold for 264 francs, the highest price paid for a drawing in the sale, before subsequently entering the equally illustrious collection of Arthur Georges Veil-Picard, who was himself one of the most celebrated connoisseurs and collectors of his time.
Whilst the purpose and precise origin of this drawing still remain something of a mystery, and its character and groundbreaking technique, in particular the enthralling combination of trois crayons and blue pastel, is more or less unique within Boucher’s œuvre, the logical assumption must surely be that Boucher created this imposing, almost painterly drawing, as a highly finished work of art in its own right.
We are grateful to Alastair Laing for his kind assistance in the cataloging of this work.
1 Ananoff 1976, pp. 17-18, no. 321/2, reproduced.
2 P. Bjurström, French Drawings: 18th Century, vol. 4, Drawings in Swedish Public Collections, Stockholm 1982, no. 865, fig. 865, reproduced.
3 Städel Museum, Frankfurt, inv. no. 1229.
4 Ananoff 1976, under no. 321/2.
5 F. Joulie, François Boucher. Fragments d’une vision du monde, exhib. cat., Gammel Holtegaard 2013, p. 107, no. 35, reproduced.
6 Städel Museum, Frankfurt, inv. no. 1228.
7 Ananoff 1976, p. 16, no. 321a, reproduced.
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