Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Boucher, Francois

The Love Letter
oil on canvas
81.2 x 75.2 cm (31 15/16 x 29 5/8 in.)
Timken Museum of Art, Balboa Park in San Diego, California, USA

The Love Letter was commissioned by Madame de Pompadour herself. The king's mistress ordered it for her chateau at Bellevue, where they probably hung over doorways, built into curving oval frames. Pieces of canvas were later added at the corners to make this painting rectangular. The scene is a pastoral idyll. The young "shepherdesses" wear fine silks, and an audience would understand an erotic promise in the display of pink toes.

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, also known as Madame de Pompadour (1721 - 1764) was a member of the French court, and was the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to her death. Louis XV was devoted to her until her death from tuberculosis in 1764 at the age of forty-two. Looking at the rain during the departure of his mistress' coffin from Versailles, the King said: "The marquise won't have good weather for her journey."

Francois Boucher (1703 - 1770) was a extremely popular French painter of the rococo age. He began his artistic career working as an engraver and at the age of 17. He was greatly impressed by the delicate style of his contemporary Antoine Watteau. In 1723 Boucher won the Prix de Rome and studied in Rome from 1727 to 1731. He turned what he studied into a uniquely personal style, suitable for large-scale decorations as well as small intimate, so-called cabinet pictures.

He was enormously successful, and well patronized, so his output was prodigious. He designed stage sets, provided models for the porcelain factory, and designs for the tapestry factories. He held a near monopoly in producing the imagery of the mid-century. In 1755, he became director of the Gobelins tapestries and in 1765 he was made first painter to the king, director of the Royal Academy, and designer for the Royal Porcelain Works. His success was greatly facilitated by his patron, the Marquise de Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV. Boucher was her favorite, and he painted her portrait several times.

His lovely paintings and decorations, usually portray an idyllic and pastoral world, with little attempt to confront reality. His delicate, lighthearted depictions of classical divinities and unusually well-dressed French shepherdesses delighted the public, who made him the most fashionable painter of mid-century Europe. By the early 1770's, his sentimental and, some said, facile style was too widely imitated and fell out of favor during the rise of neoclassicism. He died in Paris on 30 May 1770.