François BOUCHER (Paris, 1703 - 1770)

Half-length Profile View of Seated Young Woman Reading “Abelard and Heloise”

20.7 x 15.5 cm. (8 1/8 x 8 1/8 in.)

Black chalk, stump, sanguine, white chalk, and blue pastel highlights
Beautiful sculpted gilt Louis XV frame decorated with shells, flowerets, et curlicues

• Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) Collection ;
• M. Casimir Ignace Stralem (1886-1932), by bequest to his wife, Mme Casimir Stralem ;
• France, Private Collection.
• New York, Galleries of the Duveen Brothers, French Drawings of the Eighteenth Century: A Loan Collection arranged by Mr. Richard Owen, 1934, n° 12.

• Alexandre Ananoff, L’œuvre dessinée de François Boucher, catalogue raisonné, vol. I, F. de Nobele, Paris, 1970, cat. 360, fig. 71, p. 110.
• Alexandre Ananoff, Boucher, Lausanne Paris: la Bibliothèque des arts, 1976.
• Pierrette Jean Richard, L’œuvre gravé de François Boucher dans la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, 1978.
• Pierre Rosenberg and Alastair Laing, Boucher, exh. cat. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986), Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts (1986), Paris, National Galleries of the Grand Palais (1987), Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986.
• Françoise Joulie, François Boucher : hier et aujourd’hui, exh. cat. Paris, Louvre Museum, Oct.17th, 2003 – Jan. 19th, 2004, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003.

François Boucher’s education began under his father Nicolas Boucher (1671-1743), a master painter and draughtsman at the Academy of St. Luke. At the age of 18, he entered the studio of the famous François Lemoyne (1688-1737) which launched his real career. Winner of the Prix de Rome in 1723, Boucher attended the French Academy there from 1728 to 1731, where he did studies after Antiquity. After his return to to Paris, he entered the Royal Academy in 1734 as a history painter.
Very rapidly and very much appreciated in his lifetime, the artist received all the honors to which a painter of his generation could aspire. His brilliant career was awarded with numerous titles, including Professor, Director of the Royal Academy, and First Painter to the King. Until the 1760s, the artist fulfilled hundreds of commissions from prestigious patrons, including the Marquise de Pompadour and the Duke of Chevreuse, as well as the Royal Manufactories of Beauvais and Gobelins, while enthusiastically teaching his style in his studio.
In the 1760s, he produced female portraits in which the faces are stamped with new elegance, probably as a consequence of Caylus, an honorary amateur member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, who started a competition of “heads of expression” in 1759. This renewal is especially recognizeable in Boucher’s work in the width of the sitters’ foreheads and their large eyes elongated across the temples under perfectly arched eyebrows, as can be marvelously seen in the sketch of a Bust-length View of a Young Girl (ill. 1). The handling of the female profile in black chalk with pastel highlights, as well as its almost identical dimensions to our sheet, makes it a comparable work in every respect. Preferring to seduce the eye more than the soul, Boucher breathes remarkable sweetness and sensuality into the image. A gracious young woman seen in a profile bust-length view is seated in an armchair and gazes delicately at a work which she is holding in her gloved hands, giving a peaceful image of daily happiness in a refined 18th century space.
The work on rendering facial expression and the finesse of the features suggest that the artist sketched the sitter in person. A certain lyricism emanates from this young face heightened by a refined hairdo held by a few flowers from which carefully arranged curls escape. Our drawing also shows the artist’s interest in rendering details and textures of the muslin dress from the collar to the lacy edges of the sleeves handled nervously with a few rapid strokes of black chalk, sometimes undulating and sometimes geometricized.

This image was diffused in the course of the 18th century through an engraving by Gilles Demarteau (1722-1776) (ill. 2), an engraver from Lieges established in Paris since the mid-century. Demarteau became known for his engravings after the works of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) and Carle van Loo (1705-1765), among others, and above all, for those of François Boucher with whom he became friends.
Realized in reverse from our sheet, Demarteau’s work reveals a few light differences in composition in terms of the hairdo, as well as in the handling of colors, as the highlights are in black and green crayons. Demarteau even adds a title to the work which the sitter holds in her hands, and entitles his engraving, “Woman Reading Eloyse and Abailar,” and signs on the edge, “Thirteenth Engraving in several Crayons. In Paris at Demarteau’s, Engraver to the King, rue de la Pelleterie, at the Clock. No. 218.2
Did Boucher confide the work’s title to Demarteau or was it a personal addition? The story of Heloise and Abelard, a medieval work published under Louis VI (1081-1136), aligns perfectly with the intimate nature of the young woman’s innocent image. A passionate story in which Pierre Abelard, 36 years old and Master of Theology at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris met Heloise, 21 years younger than he was, and fell madly in love. In spite of the spiritual education they’d received, the couple gave birth to a child and secretly married. The end of their lives, punished and separated, remained idyllic through a passionate correspondence which the young sitter in our drawing seems interested in reading.

On a closely cut format, Boucher pays particular attention to the least details through rigor and a quality of execution which makes a very finished study. The highlights in color are skillfully placed, and by mixing pencil and pastel, the artist plays with textures.

François Boucher probably began using pastel when he was present at Maurice Quentin de la Tour’s work sessions (1704-1788) who came to his home to depict Madame Boucher as a submission to his first Salon. Fascinated by the variety of shades de la Tour could bring to his drawings, Boucher thus mixed black chalk with pastel and displayed striking mastery of them. The grain of the pastel is used here for outlining the flowers in the hair, as well as to render volume in the dress. The clever handling of light renders, on the one hand, the grace and sweetness of the modeling in the face all in roundness from the hairdo to the chin. On the other hand, it illustrates the luxurious silk of the dress colored blue to make it reflect and soften the light.
The use of sanguine makes the black chalk luminous. In the sitter’s face, it is used to brighten the flesh tones in the cheeks under the light, thus bringing out the whitened tints caused by generous use of powder.
The monochromatic background consisting of light hatching is carefully stumped, a technique which is equally used for the edges of the desk, armchair, and sketchy lace sleeve. The sitter thus bathes in an atmosphere of sweetness and lightness.

Incontestably representative of 18th century painted portraits, François Boucher also was an excellent draughtsman and pastelist. He knew how to win his colleagues’ admiration, as well as that of his prestigious collector patrons eager for his female figures which he placed in the foreground of his works. Our drawing, recently rediscovered, had entered the collections of eminent art collectors during the following centuries, including Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), then Casimir Ignace Stralem (1886-1932), probably next inherited by his son, Donald Sigmund Stralem (1903-1976), who was also a collector.

transl. chr
We would like to thank Mr. Alaistair Laing for having confirmed the authenticity of our drawing.

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