François BOUCHER (Paris, 1703 - 1770)

Maternal Tenderness

36.5 x 23.3 cm. (10 7/16 x 9 3/16 in.)
c. 1765. Black chalk, stumped, and highlighted with white chalk on initially blue paper. Inscribed on lower right of mount in brown ink: “dessiné par Boucher chez Me la Mise de /Mesgrigny.” Fully glued. Mount by the merchant haberdasher and Parisian expert, Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711-1786) (Lugt 1119 on lower right of mount)

• Given by the artist to Anne-Edmée Marchal de Sainscy, subsequently Marquise de Mesgrigny (married in 1770, died in 1826).
• Thence by descent to the Comte du Parc, château de Villebertin, Troyes.
• Probably dispersed in his auction (Mes Pierre & Philippe Jonquet, September 24th-26th, 1982) though not catalogued.

No other drawing by Boucher is known by this author on which he is recorded as its donor. It is also singular that the recipient was a young woman, rather than a collector. In this case, however, the explanation is not far to seek: Anne-Edmée, who later married Louis Marie, Marquis de Mesgrigny (1744-1822), was the sister of Louis René Marchal de Sainscy, Clergy Treasurer, a great late collector of Boucher’s paintings who owned no less than sixteen (including The Rising and The Setting of the Sun-God Apollo, now in the Wallace Collection, London).

The inscription in an elegant eighteenth century hand which attributes Anne-Edmée with the title of Marquise de Mesgrigny has to have been posterior to her marriage which took place July 8, 1770, a little more than a month after the artist’s death on May 30th, 1770. Boucher thus offered his drawing when the collector’s sister was still only Mademoiselle de Sainscy. Another work probably attests to their relationship. In the 1982 sale of the Villebertin Château, listed under number 2 was an oval bust in pastel of an unidentified girl or young woman with her hand on a book of music.² Attributed to Allais, this pastel has since reappeared on the market (my thanks to Neil Jaffares for having brought this work to my attention). This portrait might just conceivably be by Boucher and depict the Marquise of Mesgrigny, but at the moment, the attribution, as well as the identification, remains purely hypothetical.

The drawing certainly is a late one by Boucher, dating from the second half of the 1760s. It compares well with another that passed through successive auctions and shows a Young Woman, Boy and Dog, in which the woman holds flowers in her apron. The drawing was signed or inscribed F. Boucher 176... The photograph of an unlocated drawing, of what appears to be the same young woman as in the present drawing washing laundry in a tub and accompanied by a small boy, was in the photo archive of François Heim. Another such drawing, of a young woman seen from behind hitching her skirt up, and carrying a small child on her back with a boy beside her, is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon .

When this drawing resurfaced in July 2015, it was suggested that it might be by Jacques Philippe Joseph de Saint-Quentin rather than by Boucher. Although that is not the case, it is rather intriguing that Marchal de Sainscy’s auction on April 29th, 1789 contained four drawings by Saint-Quentin, two in ink and two in black and white chalk (lots 84 and 85). Is it possible that his sister also owned drawings by the same artist, and that subsequently confusion arose as to which drawings were by him, and which by Boucher? It is certainly the case that Saint-Quentin did make a number of drawings of this same kind as his former master’s ; but the types of figures in them are very much his own, and distinct from Boucher’s.

Our drawing with its broad black chalk strokes, forcefully placed white highlights, and summary treatment of the background remarkably illustrates the technical freedom in the last works of Boucher who loved to mix media in his quest for better effects. Our drawing thus oscillates between being a preparatory study and a perfectly finished pastel. It also is evidence of the artist’s reflections on maternal warmth which had nourished his tenderest Virgin and Child images. The modest interior and banal setting serve only as pretext for the admiration of a child’s trust in his mother’s arm, while she pretends to be interested in the dog but actually embraces her son.

Alastair Laing

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