François BOUCHER
(Paris 1703 - 1770)

Five Studies of Female Arms, Hands, Legs, and Feet

a - Study of legs of a woman seated on drapery and turned to the left.
Black chalk, sanguine, white chalk on beige paper, traces of additonal brown ink,
traces of a signature in lower righthand corner, traces of counter proof.
22.5 x 16.5 cm. (8 7/8 x 6 1/2 in.)

b - Frontal study of a reclining woman’s legs against a drapery.
Sanguine, black chalk, white chalk on beige paper, traces of additional brown ink.
11.2 x 25.5 cm. (4 7/16 x 10 in.)

c - Study of a left hand holding a tambourine.
Sanguine on beige paper.
9.5 x 17 cm. (3 3/4 x 6 11/16 in.)

d - Frontal study of a reclining woman’s legs.
Sanguine, some traces of white chalk on beige paper. >br/>
14.2 x 22.4 cm. (5 5/8 x 8 13/16 in.)

e - Study of a reclining woman’s legs seen from the back.
Sanguine and white chalk on beige paper, traces of additional brown ink.
9.5 x 18 cm. (3 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)

Boucher’s hand and foot studies of details for his figures are among the most appealing and the least known. Those which have survived display a concern for detail which indicates their importance for the artist.

From his first drawing, conserved in Ottawa which was created at the age of 18, Boucher displayed his mastery of group compositions. When he was received in the Royal Academy as a history painter in 1734 upon his return from Italy, he also had complete control of his figures’ settings, three-dimensionality and chiaroscuro. On the other hand, in the studio during these same years around 1735, before painting a picture, between the oil sketch or preliminary compositional drawing and the final painting, he began to adopt a slow patient approach to the depiction of hands and feet. Their perfection became in fact indispensable, both because as a professor at the academy, it was what he was expected to teach his students and also because commissions for paintings with mythological or pastoral subjects which immediately pleased collectors included close-ups of this type of motif which were obviously difficult for an artist who was more sensitive to brushstroke and pose than to details.

The first extant studies concern the “Derbais commission” of 1732-1734 and generally are on large sheets of paper where they are associated with other preparatory motifs for pictures (faces, bodies, draperies). Only around 1740, do isolated studies, similar to the ones here, appear on smaller pages in sanguine, often highlighted in white and sometimes black chalk. An indirect proof of the difficulty which the motif represented for the painter is the fact that each of these studies is linked to a precise detail in a picture and rarely re-employed. Consequently they are datable in relation to each other and make it possible to follow the artist’s constant evolution throughout his entire career. The Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology in Besançon, for example, conserves a group of drawings from the 1740’s through 1750’s which includes a bust and hand of Venus in preparation for the picture painted for Louis XV in 1741, a hand for the figure of Tragedy in the Cabinet des Médailles also from 1741, one of the courtesan in “La Toilette” of 1742, two hands of men for Vertumnus in the Columbus picture of 1749, the hand of Issé for the Tours painting of 1750, “Apollo revealing his Divinity to the Shepherdess Issé.”

Often these sheets have been cut out in order to be mounted together. This was probably the case for the Besançon group, as well as for the sheets studied here. Among the five studies, the one showing the legs and feet of a seated woman seen from behind (Fig. E) is important because it is the earliest; it is a rare drawing on the subject from the artist’s youth which can be placed among the very first ones known, around 1735, on account of the fleshy collected appearance of feet strongly marked by Northern influence which recalls that of the sleeping man in the foreground of “The Farm” in Munich, for example, or the servants in “The Rape of Europa” in the Wallace Collection, London, or the seated woman in “The Return from Market.” These two feet are a study for the preparatory study of the reclining nymph in Tours which was for “Mercury Entrusting Bacchus to the Nysa Nymphs,” datable to c. 1734. When he painted another nymph for the Hotel of Langonnay, rue de Varenne, in 1739, François Boucher still remembered the earlier one, but the motif this time was partially hidden by drapery and handled more naturally.

The beautiful study of vertical legs in three chalks (Fig. a) presents the particular appearance of a drawing at a critical point: on the one hand very finished for one of the legs while the second leg is only sketched in with a few lines; this characteristic orients us to the 1740’s. In the painting of the “Three Graces Chaining Cupid,” Hôtel de Soubise, similar extremely worked shadows can be seen in the woman on the right in the hollows of her only really visible leg, even though her thigh is slightly shorter.

The other drawings can be dated after 1740: one easily sees that the studies of the legs are more elegant, less rustic, with tapered feet handled like arabesques. The study of reclining legs in sanguine (Fig. D) would seem to be related to the lost painting of “Pastoral Music” from the Duke of Chartres’ collections, dated 1743; the one in three chalks (Fig. b) is preparation for “The Love Letter,” signed and dated 1745, property of Madame de Pompadour at Bellevue; the white highlights on the thighs and tips of the feet are placed exactly as they are in the painting, proof that Boucher plunged into this study of a detail just before proceeding to a painting for which he already know the effects of light and shadow. The study of the hand (Fig. c) is strictly contemporaneous, it is for one of the two Bacchantes playing music in “The Bacchantes” overdoor painted for Bellevue and today in the De Young Memorial Museum of San Francisco; the sanguine line at the bottom of the drawing is a cut off section of this bacchante’s drapery.

The history of this group is difficult to establish, especially as the old mount is lost; the only extant example of these drawings presented together was about ten studies from the years 1742 to 1754 assembled in a François Renaud mount. In the 18th century, these sheets did not circulate much because they were preciously conserved by the artist’s students. Thus, Charles Michel Ange Challe had a collection of “one hundred and seven studies of feet, hands, figures and compositions,” mainly by Boucher in a small bound volume (N° 976 of his sale on March 9th, 1778). Boucher’s two son-in-laws, both of whom disappeared before their father-in-law, owed numerous examples, as if the artist had wished to bequeath them: n° 95 of the Jean-Baptiste Deshayes Sale after his death (March 26th, 1765) describes “fifty studies of hands, arms, legs, and feet, some in black chalk, others in sanguine” by Boucher, and Pierre-Antoine Baudoin owned more than a hundred (sale of February 15th, 1770).

Françoise Joulie

Provenance : France, Private Collection

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