• France, Private Collection.
Probably Salon of 1739: “On the door […] On one side and the other, Two little Pictures of the same size, one of which depicts Vertumnus and Pomona ; and the other, Bacchus and Ariadne by M. Boizot, Academician” (Explication des peintures, sculptures et autres ouvrages de Messieurs de l’Académie royale, dont l’exposition a été ordonnée suivant l’intention de Sa Majesté... dans le grand sallon du Louvre..., Paris, 1739, p. 17).
The Meeting of Bacchus and Ariadne
The meeting of Bacchus and Ariadne, whom Theseus had left alone on the Island of Naxos, was one of the most prized subjects for artists from the Renaissance until the 19th century, even though Ovid had only devoted a short phrase in Book VIII of the Metamorphoses to the subject: “Deserted and weeping bitterly, as she was, Bacchus-Liber brought her help and comfort.” In this apparently simple myth, each era found subject matter to imagine and create: the beauty of the bodies of both princess and juvenile god, an infinite diversity of poses, exoticism of the site between the sea and rocks, the exuberance of Bacchus’ followers, the complex feelings of the two protagonists torn between despair, surprise, comfort, generosity, affection, and especially the happy ending, as opposed to that of other love stories between gods and mortals.
Our little picture fits into the tradition of an exuberant French 18th century which transforms this myth into a veritable celebration of gallant love. Held apart from each other by the strict etiquette of the Grand Century, Bacchus who is attentive and tender, and Ariadne, nude but chaste, finally touch. This first modest embrace serves as pretext to deploy a lavish cortege composed of laughing satyrs, bacchantes crowned with ivy, mischievous putti surrounded by all the riches of nature, and a multitude of precious objects: wreaths of flowers, baskets of grapes, a golden chariot pulled by leopards, vases, jewels, and musical instruments. Antoine Coypel, starting in 1693 (Philadelphia, Museum of Art, inv. 1990-54-1), then François de Troy in 1717 (Berlin, Kaiser Friedrich Museum, inv. KFMV.241), François Lemoyne (drawing in a private collection), Charles Joseph Natoire in 1743 (Versailles, inv. MV 7698), François Boucher in about 1749 (location unknown), Carle Van Loo (private collection), and Louis Lagrenée in 1757 and 1768 (private collection; Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, inv. NM 841): the painters at the Royal Academy rivaled each other ingeniously so as to be the best at extolling the love between the mortal Ariadne and the god so as to satisfy the demanding tastes of the court of France.
Drawing inspiration from Coypel (garlands of flowers, Bacchus’ gesture as he supports Ariadne’s left arm) and de Troy (the bacchante with the tambourine, the young woman’s head tipped slightly back) and especially Lemoyne (the god’s counterbalancing pose, the drapery behind the couple), our painting is the work of a little known artist whose corpus remains surprisingly meager despite a successful career.
Born in Paris in 1702, Antoine Boizot’s was trained under François Lemoyne who would have a lifelong impact on his art. In 1729, the young artist was second in the competition for the Prix de Rome, behind Philothée-François Duflos. The following year, he carried off the first prize with Gehazi, Elisha’s Servant, which made it possible for him to depart for Italy on a royal pension for four years, from 1731 to 1735. Following his return to Paris, he was approved as a history painter by the Academy in 1736 and then received on May 25, 1737, upon the presentation of Apollo Caressing Leucothea. The same year, he exhibited in the Salon for the first time and was appointed painter, “draughtsman of lines” (or contour draughtsman), and professor at the Royal Manufacture of Gobelins. He remained there until his death in the Hôtel des Gobelins in 1782. His first wife was Marie Oudry, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Oudry who died in childbirth. After that, Boizot remarried with Jeanne-Marie Flottes who bore him eight children, including the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809).
Boizot was present in almost all the Salons between 1737 and 1771 with mythological paintings whose light subjects featured Venus, Cupid, Aurora, or the Muses, in the vein of Venus Asking Vulcan to Forge Arms for her Son Aeneas, known from the engraving (1747) and Aurora Pleads with Cupid for the Rejuvenation of Tithonus, whose preparatory drawing is conserved in the Museum of Poitiers (1753). Most of the paintings probably would have been transformed into Gobelins tapestries, which – combined with the virtually systematic absence of a signature – explains the difficulty in reconstituting Boizot’s oeuvre.
The artist’s sure works, as well as his reception piece, yield many analogies with our canvas which seems to be a very developed preparatory sketch for a larger composition or for a tapestry cartoon. The same theatrical organization of space can be seen, with the background very close to the surface and tight framing, the same avoidance of empty space, similar types of figures inspired by antique statuary, similar interest in ornaments and attributes, the same search for decorative effects, the same thick enveloping draperies, and similar relaxed gestures. The obvious proximity to Lemoyne’s most loosely worked paintings, especially in the broad brushstroke, the regular hatching in light reflections, and the dominance of warm hues, almost prove Pahin de La Balcherie right when he wrote about Boizot’s Deification of Aeneas exhibited in 1783 at the Salon of Correspondance: “Boizot had adopted his master’s style to the point that most easel paintings could have been attributed to the latter. His composition, color, and brushstroke were perfect imitations.”
Colorist Conception of our Painting
Far from being Lemoyne’s successor, Boizot demonstrates in our painting that he is an original artist and remarkable colorist. Out of multiple sources of inspiration, he draws an elegant exquisite composition all in curves and counter-curves, with theatrical lighting caressing the volumes, creating transparent and colored shadows, while thousands of lights scattered through the details makes the entire work iridescent. Working with thick generous impasto, the artist conceives his work as a subtle balance between tender shades of blues, pinks, and golden yellows which through unctuous strokes evolve into fawny cameo layers. Lyrical and sumptuous, our picture is an inestimable and precious contribution to the corpus of Antoine Boizot, academician and draughtsman for Gobelins whose fame did not withstand the celebrity of his son, the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot.
We would like to thank Mr. Alastair Laing for having suggested the attribution of our painting.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Sophie JOIN-LAMBERT, Peintures françaises du XVIIIe siècle. Catalogue raisonné, musée des beaux-arts de Tours, château d’Azay-le-Ferron, Tours, 2008, cat. 4.