François BOUCHER
(Paris, 1703 - 1770)

Study of a Male Head wearing a Turkish Turban

21.8 x 16.7 cm. (8 9/16 x 6 9/16 in.)
Sanguine. Inscribed lower right in brown ink: Boucher. F. Upper left: the numeral 33 in brown ink. Verso : same number in the same hand. Maker’s watermark of Jerome Cusson of Riom (Thiers), attested between 1725 and about 1735: HJ (fleur de lys) CVSSON (in an elongated oval).

• Christian Hammer Collection (1818-1905), Stockholm (Lugt 1237 on verso).
• His sale, Cologne, J. M. Heberle, June 30th, 1897, lot 3065 (as François Boucher).
• Edward Habich Collection (1818-1901), Boston and Cassel (Lugt 862 on the old mount).
• His sale, Stuttgart, H. G. Gutekunst, April 27th, 1899, lot 122 (as François Boucher).
• William Bateson Collection (1861-1926), London (Lugt 2604a lower right).
• His sale, London, Sotheby’s, April 23rd-24th, 1929, lot 133 (as François Boucher).
• Carl Robert Rudolf Collection (1884-1974), London (Lugt 2811b on verso).
• His sale, London, Sotheby’s, November 2nd, 1949, lot 2 (as François Boucher).
• Bought by Keith Vaughan (1912-1977), London.
• Great Britain, Private Collection.

Boucher’s costumed head studies are rare as are his exotic subjects related to Turquoiseries. In general, the circumstances are known as they were for specific commissions.

The most famous and most documented, which is to be considered here as the first hypothesis for a costumed figure study, would be the king’s commission for his petits appartements in Versailles of two subjects of The Leopard Hunt and The Crocodile Hunt, painted in 1736 and 1739 respectively. However it is not possible to place our drawing in relation to either of the two pictures. First of all, it is clear that the motif can’t be found in them, although that doesn’t comprise a real argument. It is evident moreover that the writing on the present drawing is that of the artist’s maturity, that is to say, about 1745. it is more closed and doesn’t have any of the suppleness or fluidity of around 1735. In addition, the serenity of this calm head can not be adapted to subjects as violent as those of the two exotic hunt scenes. Furthermore, Boucher’s main difficulty in the two subjects of exotic hunts for the king was the exceptional necessity of depicting passions such as fear, violence, courage, determination, suffering which were completely foreign to him. The method he adapted was simple: because in 1735, he was Assistant Professor, and in 1737, Professor at the Academy, he referred to the treatises on expressions used by the Royal Academy, and in particular, those of Charles Lebrun, in the extant drawings for this Versailles commission produced between 1736 and 1739. For his pictures, the faces he sets on paper are almost caricatures which, when translated into painting, become obviously effective. This, by the way, is the moment when Boucher, as a rococo artist, works on grimacing masks and faces mainly drawn from Gillot. One sees nothing of that here: this face, on the contrary, is striking for its serenity and the sense of life which it projects.

If it can not then be a study for the subjects of The Leopard Hunt and the Crocodile Hunt, another group would seem to be more appropriate in terms of date and spirit, namely the drawings which Boucher furnished for the Customs and Habits of the Turks, their Religion, Civil, Military, and Political Government, with an overview of Ottoman History by the lawyer M. Guer, published by Coustelier in Paris in 1746. Boucher gave Duflos drawings which were “finished” for engraving; executed in black chalk, they are small scale, because more or less in the format of the engravings. They are detailed and very precise, in order to make it possible for the engraver to be as faithful as possible to the originals. These drawings were the property of the collector Lempereur, and it is possible that in order to produce them, Boucher first did studies of certain details of heads in order to attain greater resemblance. It is what he did for the subjects in the Tenture Chinoise of 1742, with a few rare studies of Chinese faces, which, once technically perfected, became subject to multiple variations. The finished drawings of group scenes to be engraved for Customs and Habits of the Turks…(twelve vignettes including the frontispiece and seven “bands” were all part of the Lempereur collection. They were numbers 543 to 548 in his 1773 sale, with another sold separately under the number 535, for a page in volume I which finally was not inserted and for which the title given by Duflos is The Death of Irene

The publication of this work illustrated by Boucher, as for Voltaire’s Mohamet II - written in 1729, played in 1741-1742, and then forbidden, printed in Amsterdam in 1746 - coincides with the arrival in Paris in January 1742 of a Turkish ambassador received by Louis XV. This event inspired artists of the time, and in particular Etienne Parrocel. One can not exclude the possibility that Boucher had in mind an individual whom he had seen.

Nonetheless, the artist does not produce a portrait here. The essence of picturesque effects is suggested by the importance given to the eyebrows and drooping mustaches, the work on costume accessories, and the material contrasts between collar, fur (which has been added because it is drawn over the outline of the shoulder visible beneath) and the light drapery of the garment which suggests a shiny fabric. The exotic character of the figure and its three-dimensionality are achieved through a mid ground suggested by the tail of the turban which hangs down behind the ear and the turban’s folds which establish strong contrasts between the shadows of the upper part of the face (a technique characteristic of the 1740’s) and the brightly lit cheeks. As a result, the open gaze becomes immediate. Perhaps it is this living luminous gaze that makes it most possible to recognize François Boucher, because no comparative elements exist for this drawing. The fashion for Turquoiseries would take off again with Madame de Pompadour after 1745, however there can be no question here of a drawing later than about 1745.

Françoise Joulie

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