François BOUCHER (Paris, 1703-1770)

Academy of a Man on his Side

27.3 x 39 cm. (10 ¾ x 15 38 in.)
c. 1740
. Sanguine, thin line of black ink added on the upper part Inscribed in sanguine lower left: F. Boucher del Watermark of grapes

• France, Private Collection

This beautiful quality male academy was conserved in a portfolio without a mount for several centuries. Attentive examination reveals that it was also counter-proofed, an occasion which caused the sanguine to lose some intensity. Thus legibility in some places is imprecise and attribution consequently difficult. Nonetheless, the name of Boucher crops up insistently for this folio.

The inscription on the lower left of the drawing does not constitute a signature, but is an old indication of a known link to Boucher. Even so, this study can neither be the copy of a lost original drawing by the artist, nor the copy of an engraving whose location is unknown, because the work presents technical qualities and the freedom of a master’s drawing. The expressive rendering of the sitter’s back, which is almost over-developed, and the quality of the handling of arms and legs in swathes of light evoke Boucher’s quite unusual work after 1740 when he was drawing academies. Here his precise knowledge of the human body can be found expressed from the interior by an efficient play of muscular mass which many of his contemporaries preferred to avoid. It can also be seen in his characteristic use of long slender lines which make underlying bone structure evident. The handling of hair demonstrates a desire for naturalness which relates the drawing to preparatory studies for The Tiger Hunt and The Crocodile Hunt, realized between 1736 and 1739. Nonetheless the accentuated sinuosity of the contours corresponding to the rocaille period, Jean Jouvenet’s clear influence, and the synthesizing technique which is becoming apparent all coincide to place it just before 1740.

Having entered the Royal Academy at the end of 1734, become Assistant Professor by 1735 and then Professor in 1737, François Boucher effectively broke away around 1740 from traditional teaching which modeled the body from the outside with small rounded lines. In the drawings which he delivered to his students at the Royal Academy, he adopted a style using long lines associated with swathes of light which played across the body in an almost sculptural fashion. This technique forged a very singular expressive style which gave the academies from his mature period a unique powerfulness. The evolution in process which is visible in this drawing is due to very patient thought and synthesis based on models by Lebrun, Rubens, the Carracci, and especially Jean Jouvenet, all of which were accessible in the private collections which he frequented, and in particular, that of Pierre Crozat which was dispersed in 1741. In 2003, we emphasized for the first time, and have often evoked since then, the importance of Jean Jouvenet’s drawings for François Boucher. He owned several folios by the master and was much inspired by his academies, and after 1750, didn’t even hesitate to insert Jouvenet’s drawings – or copies he had made of them – in the midst of his own in his Book of Academies engraved by Larue (Plate 7, for example.) In our case, Boucher’s contours and lines are even more emphasized than Jouvenet’s. He was inspired here by a lost drawing by the artist for which an anonymous 18th century replica is conserved at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris (inv. EBA 1128).
Françoise Joulie

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