François BOUCHER (Paris, 1703 - 1770)

The Little Blackbird Catcher
The Little Bird Catcher

Little Blackbird Catcher: 44.2 x 36 cm. (17 38 x 14 316 in.); enlarged 48.6 x 41 cm. (19 18 x 16 18 in.)
Little Bird Catcher: 44.4 x 35.5 cm. (17 ½ x 14 in.);
enlarged 48.6 x 41 cm. (19 18 x 16 18 in.)
Two pendants, oil on canvas (relined and enlarged on four sides). Signed along bottom : F. Boucher. On verso, labels from Mame Sale : “Boucher / Le Petit Dénicheur / N° 3” and “Boucher / Les Oiseaux en Cage / N° 2. ” On the stretcher of the Little Blackbird Catcher, inscription in pencil : “entrada / … / Ida” and “Gd Salon 7.”

• Alfred Mame (1811-1893) Collection, Tours
• By inheritance, his son Paul Mame (1833-1903), Tours
• Mame Sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit (Me Chevallier, M. Durand-Ruel expert), April 26th, 1904, lots 2 and 3, ill. (as Boucher, sold 31 000 francs).
• Achille Fould (1861-1926), château of Beychevelle.
• Achille-Fould Family, château of Beychevelle until 1986, then probably Tarbes.
• France, Private Collection.

Related Works
-  A pastel version of each of these two subjects exists in the Department of Graphic Arts of the two small canvases presented here; neither one has the same sureness of hand nor the ingenuous freshness.
-  An oil on canvas bringing together the two children and attributed to Jean-Baptiste Huet is conserved in a private collection (Sotheby’s sale, New York, January 28th, 2005, lot 553.)
-  The Little Blackbird Catcher: drawing by the master, location unknown, engraved by Demarteau in the “crayon manner” as a pendant to the Flower Thief (Maraudeuse de Fleurs); a chairback which is one of a series of eight conserved at Osterley Park; an oil on canvas, probably posterior, is conserved in the Chartreuse Museum in Douai (inv. 7093, 44.5 x 36 cm.)
-  The Little Bird Catcher has much in common with The Flower Thief engraved as a pendant to the Little Bird Catcher by Demarteau: the two birdcages have been replaced by a shepherd’s staff decorated with flowers and ribbons, a little basket has been awkwardly added to the hand holding up the hoop skirt.

Dating Boucher’s Children
The dates of these two pendants are situated between 1750-1755 and cannot be before 1748. The subject of clothed children by François Boucher appears in his work between 1748 and 1750, as he was turning away from Chinese subjects, probably following the success in the winter of 1747 of a fad for “pantins et pantines” (puppets), little wooden articulated figures dressed like adults, to which he personally contributed, because he was requested to provide the faces and hands of those destined for the court.

Starting in 1748, following this new fashionable tendancy which obviously responded to a renewed interest in writers and thinking about childhood, the young Manufacture in Vincennes chose soft paste subjects of children whose models were already requested from Boucher. No example has survived, but their traces are conserved in the Manufacture’s archives. After it moved to Sèvres, this same manufacture created its first biscuits, and again requested subjects of clothed children from Boucher; these are the famous Boucher Children which the king himself had included in a grand ensemble called the “Children in the King’s Service” which is currently scattered.

The same children, this time in stone, were commissioned from Boucher for Madame Pompadour’s Crécy Dairy by 1753 (set in place in 1756). Simultaneously, and as in each time that a manufacture requested subjects from Boucher, the same repertory was handled elsewhere, at Gobelins with chair backs, screens, and chimney screens, as well as in painted decors, the most famous of which is Madame Pompadour’s at Crécy, today conserved in the Frick Collection in New York. The Little Blackbird Catcher thus decorates one of the eight chairs conserved today at Osterley Park.

Intended Use
It is possible that these little luminous panels are also decorative elements formerly included in the boiseries for several reasons. They are not in fact models for the documented chair backs woven at Gobelins. Furthermore, in spite of a rather hard relining, elements such as the transparency of the group, the finesse in the handling of the two faces, the rapidity of the brushwork, the precision in accessories, and the overall chromatics confirm that these are two original works meant to be seen up close. In fact, so does the legibility of the signature, useless for a cartoon project for a chair back.

Technique and Style of our Works
The self-confidence of the artist’s hand is obvious in small details such as the little girl’s cage and bird and the blue net which, without the least hesitation, emphasizes the brim of her hat, and, in the little birdcatcher, in the transparency of the water, the elegance of the barely brushed in reeds, the foliage covered fence, the birds held in the hat, the touches of white on the dog’s back paws. The technique employed is interesting: the figures were first place alone on the empty canvas, then a blue background was brushed in upon which landscape and various secondary elements were added. In the case of the young girl, the cages were drawn initially at the same time she was because she is outlined in blue, and the pole which holds the cages was added with a single brushstroke over this blue, even as were the leaves and bushes around her. All of this obviously excludes a copy, which would never have been done is such a fashion.

In this precise work on a small dimensional subject, the effort to create effects of depth and space is clear and confirms once more the hypothesis of subjects meant to be seen up close. Attentive inspection of this picture of the little girl reveals hesitations in the landscape and that perhaps more trees initially intended and positioned in the dark tones were left unfinished (or were partially effaced?). The little birdcatcher seems more finished, with denser pigment, and that Boucher “went further” here than in the pendant of the little girl which was perhaps unfinished. For example, behind him can be sensed trees laid in gently in brown tints, reworked with the tip of the brush in grey-green tints, and then lit with white touches. Pink tints can also be seen added in the last stages to the blues of the sky, and these tones may also have been intended behind the little girl’s form.

Françoise Joulie

Bibliography of the Works

Edith Appleton STANDEN, “Country Children: Some Enfants de Boucher in Gobelins Tapestry,” Metropolitan Museum Journal, volume 29, 1994, pp. 111-133 (cit. p. 131, n. 58).

General Bibliography
G. MONNIER, Inventaire des Collections Publiques Françaises. Musée du Louvre. Pastels des XVIIème et XVIIIème siècles, Paris, 1972, no 28 et 29 (pastels after François Boucher).
Alastair LAING, Jérôme COIGNARD, “Boucher et la pastorale peinte,” Revue de l’Art, no 73, 1986, pp. 55-64.
Alastair LAING, “Madame de Pompadour et les Enfants de Boucher,” exh. cat. Madame de Pompadour et les arts, Versailles, Munich, New York, 2002, pp. 45-49.
Two drawings by Boucher in 1763 conserved in the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.
Edith Appleton STANDEN, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, volume I, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, cat. 59, pp. 405-407.

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