• Great Britain, Private Collection.
Juno Asking Aeolus to Release the Winds, 1755, oil on canvas, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, inv. AP 1972.08 (ill. 1).
Boucher’s last studies on paper are among the most impressive in the power of their lines and simplification of mass. This one dates to the last months of his life and is preparation for one of a group of six paintings commissioned by Jean-François Bergeret, Lord of Frouville, younger brother or Pierre-Jacques-Onésyme Bergeret de Grancourt, Comte de Nègrepelisse, for the private mansion which he had just acquired. These canvases are dated 1769, two of them belong to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (inv. 71.PA.54-55), while the four others, including the one related to this drawing, are in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (inv. AP 1972.07-1972.10). Many variations can be found between the initial horizontal project for this composition in pen and brown ink, conserved in the Jeffry Horvitz collection (inv. DF 28) and the Kimbell canvas. They suggest that François Boucher proposed an initial sketch, a première pensée, which he subsequently modified profoundly so as to create a vertical format with much more condensed action. The studies of details of figures in the paintings came later, and from one to the next, one can still follow the evolution of the artist’s thoughts about the final picture.
Such is the case with our drawing in which François Boucher depicts a wind spirit obeying Aeolus. The subject is inspired by the Prologue to Virgil’s Aeneid which tells how Juno promised the demi-god Aeolus, son of Neptune, lord of the winds and King of Aeolia, to give him the nymph Deiopea if he destroyed the Trojan fleet before it arrived in Italy. The rapid placement of face and hands, the efficient use of stump to suggest mass and shade, the light sanguine strokes to render flesh, the firm outlining of the male body and the way it is handled in sections are characteristic of François Boucher.
Here he is not working from life, but from “imagination” and, before our eyes, modifies his initial idea of a less visible chained spirit, whose upper torso would have appeared coming out from the rocks opened by Aeolus with his head turned towards the god. This first idea can be seen in a drawing from the collection of Jeffrey Horvitz (inv. DF 666,). The choice is made here of a more dynamic figure already in motion. The artist knows exactly what he wants to do with it, as can be seen in the white chalk highlights which descend from the upper left corner of the paper to the back and then pass behind the torso, and also in the incomplete lower body which doesn’t appear in the painting. His creative thought process is thus displayed in action before us, a fact which irresistibly brings to mind the testimony of his contemporaries concerning his inventive abilities: “Not I, not anyone,” says, for example, his student Mannlich in 1765, “could have believed such virtuosity, if we hadn’t been witness to this tour de force every day.” Women are also the subject of studies which are sometimes very developed, as is the case for a reclining naiad seen from behind, highlighted in pastel, and which takes up the foreground of the final composition (Paris, Louvre Museum, inv. RF 3879.)
Detailed studies for these ultimate mythological pictures resurface little by little, often without any old lineage. Maybe they were among the numerous portfolios, as were many drawings from Boucher’s last years, described in the painter’s studio. The Fort Worth canvas, in fact, figures among the artist’s last works. He died the following spring. The painting, with its preparatory drawings, shows that, even though quite weakened, Boucher had kept his power for composition and his technical virtuosity intact right up until the end.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Alastair LAING, The Drawings of François Boucher, exh. cat. New York, Frick Collection, Forth Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 2003-2004, p. 197, under cat. 75.
Alastair LAING, François Boucher. 1703-1770, exh. cat. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986-1987, under cat. 84.
Alexandre ANANOFF, L’œuvre dessiné de François Boucher (1703-1770), Paris, F. de Nobele, 1966.