Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Boucher, Francois

Portrait of Alexandrine Le Normant d'Etiolles, Playing with a Goldfinch
oil on canvas
54 × 45.5 cm
Private collection

Alexandrine was the daughter of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's celebrated maitresse-en-titre. Her biological father was Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Etiolles, husband of the future marquise de Pompadour, who was not yet Louis XV's mistress at the birth of her daughter. Alexandrine was nicknamed "Fanfan" by her family. She is remarked to have been very thin throughout her very short life, but healthy. Her mother became mistress of Louis XV in 1745. Louis arranged the legal separation of her parents and served as her unofficial stepfather for the rest of her life. At the age of six, Fanfan was put in the convent of the Assumption in the rue Saint-Honore in Paris, a convent for girls of the nobility that served as her finishing school. She was betrothed at age eight to the Duke of Picquigny, son of the Duke of Chaulnes, with the agreement that she would marry Picquigny at the age of twelve. Francois Poisson, Mme de Pompadour's father, doted on his granddaughter, whom he loved dearly. Madame de Pompadour even wrote, "Why must grandpapas always spoil their grandchildren?", referring to Poisson's love for Fanfan.

On 4 June 1754, Fanfan took ill at the convent of the Assumption. Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Etiolles rushed to her side, but Madame de Pompadour, who was at Versailles, could not come. Upon learning of her illness, Louis XV sent two of his own doctors to her side, but the child had already died of acute peritonitis when they arrived. Fanfan was not yet ten years old. Her grandfather, Francois Poisson, died eleven days later, on 25 June 1754, devastated by his dear Fanfan's death. Her mother reportedly never recovered from the loss of her daughter and father within a few days.

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.