François BOUCHER (Paris, 1703-1770)

Portrait of a Musician

81 x 65 cm. (31 78 x 25 58 in.)
c. 1745. Oil on canvas. Signed on the inkwell: f. Boucher


- Casimir Perrin Collection, Marquis of Cypierre (1793-1844), Paris.
- His sale, Paris, Me Bonnefons-Delavialle, March 10th, 1845, lot 19 ("Portrait d’homme tenant un violon. On dit que c’est le portrait de Rameau. Signé" / Portrait of a man holding a violin. It is said to be a portrait of Rameau. Signed), acquired for 83 francs.
- Charles Méra Collection, Lyon.
- His sale, Lyon, Me Roullet, February 8th, 1886, lot 18 ("Beau Portrait de musicien.” / Beautiful portrait of a musician. Signed. On canvas. Sculpted frame. 79 x 64 cm."), acquired for 1 180 francs.
- Private Collection, France.
- Sale Paris, Palais Galliera, December 3rd, 1969, lot 45.
- Sotheby’s Sale, Monaco, October 26th, 1981, lot 560.


  • 1983, New York, Didier Aaron Gallery, no 11.

Painted portraits were a genre to which Boucher did not give much time. His portraits of women – and especially those of Madame de Pompadour – and a few portraits of children – such as those of Alexandrine Lenormant d’Etiolles or the Duke of Orleans – were nonetheless famous. Male portraits by his hand are much rarer. The most spectacular which recently reappeared is that of Sireul, which is not a canvas, but a pastel drawing. This easily realized technique made it possible, without requiring long sittings, to render sparingly the refinement of the painter’s friend, who was also a collector.

The muted tones adopted here are remniscent, moreover, of the chromatics in pastel evoked above, and the waistlength composition confirms the choice of an intimate portrait. The radiance of the musician’s eyes, his half-smile, the lower part of his face a bit heavy with clearly marked wrinkles, show the artist’s mastery, as well as his real familiarity with the sitter. The effects are discreet and efficient: the sparkling whites of the wig, jabot, and lace cuffs respond to the more somber velvet suit. One’s gaze is unequivocably drawn towards the partition and violin, which is the only element handled in a warm hue. Details, such as the ease of the brushwork quite visible in the handling of whites, the depth of the blacks of which Boucher is one of the rare artists to know how to use well, the spatula aspect of the very long fingers, and the wrist which is just a little bit too supple, designate a mature work which thus cannot be before 1745.

The sitter’s identity remains controversial. The names of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and of Francesco Gemigniani have been proposed. That of Rameau is generally retained on account of the links he had with François Boucher, probably starting around 1735, because both belonged to the Caveau, “a Bacchic and singing society” situated since 1732 at rue de Buci. This same society also put Boucher in contact with the contra tenor Jélyotte of whom he did a portrait, with the writers Piron, Fuzelier who wrote the livret of Rameau’s Indes galantes which was played for the first time in 1735, with Pannard, Galet, Collé, and the Crébillon father and son, all of whom gave the artist work. But Boucher and Rameau were so close that it even seems one uses instruments in his paintings in the same way as as the other does in his partitions. Thus, for example, in the years 1735-1740, Rameau used the traverse flute in Hyppolytus and Aricia or in Castor and Pollux for the scene of happy shadows, while Boucher would employ the traverse flute in Cupid’s ephemeral palace in which Psyche is received. A letter to Bauchaumont shows that it is indeed the artist’s choice to give a specific tonality to his composition which is destined to become a tapestry. In the years 1735-1740, Boucher’s works are actually set to music by the instruments which are always adapted to the scene they depict.

The affinities between Boucher and Rameau prove consistent throughout their lives: in 1764, Boucher can still be found furnishing sets for the reprise of the opera Castor and Pollux. He could thus have done this portrait of the composer in the years around 1745. It remains to be seen if this picture gives Rameau features close to those of his bust by Caffieri exhibited in the Salon of 1765 and conserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Dijon. This exercise of resemblance in painted portraits is always difficult. The discreet presence of a feather pen placed on the table near the musician could indicate a composer, while the partition, if identified, could also give additional clues and confirm the hypothesis of a portrait of Rameau.

However, let us be allowed to advance another hypothesis which takes into account the rarity of male portraits in Boucher’s oeuvre, Boucher’s obvious familiarity with the sitter, the benevolence of his gaze, and the fact that the sitter has the time to sit for him. Through his marriage on April 21st, 1733 with Marie-Jeanne Buzeau, whose talents as a singer were well known, François Boucher entered a family of musicians from the Royal Academy of Music. Perhaps it could simply be one of them.
Françoise Joulie

General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
A. Michel, L. Soullié, Ch. Masson, François Boucher, Paris, n.d. [1906], p. 1061, 60, no 1080.
Pierre de Nolhac, François Boucher, premier peintre du roi, Paris, 1907, p.172.

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