In the course of a brilliant career rewarded by many titles, such as Professor, Director of the Royal Academy, and First Painter of the King, François Boucher received all the honors to which a painter could aspire. Right into the 1760s, he responded to hundreds of commissions from prestigious patrons, including the Marquise de Pompadour and the Duc de Chevreuse, as well as the Beauvais and Gobelins Royal Manufactories, not to mention that he enthusiastically taught his style to students at the Academy.
Our painting was produced at the height of this intense activity. Only one year after his admission into the Royal Academy in 1734, Boucher imposed a renewal of history painting, the result of his apprenticeship under François Lemoyne (Paris, 1688 – 1733). Privileging visual seduction over intellect, he inaugurated a new canon of beauty in presenting the 18th century female body with unprecedented charm and sensuality.
A pillar of the Beauvais Manufactory which he co-directed and started to supply in 1735, Boucher proposed a Tapestry Series of Italian Style Village Festivals which was considered one of the most grandiose oeuvres of 18th century France. The suite consisted of eight works, of which our picture, seemingly created under his direction, appears to be the model for La Bohemienne. It could be by Jacques Nicolas Julliard (Paris, 1715-1790), one of the most assiduous students in François Boucher’s studio, after a lost work by the master.
“The Julliard hypothesis is interesting, on account of the lightness of the skies, elegant precise execution of the trees and foliage, the very resonant choice of colors; this repetition would then be situated among his very first productions about which we know very little.” (1) This artist’s life remains obscure by we know that “Julliard entered the studio in 1740 and stayed there almost ten years. A painter for the Aubusson and Felletin Manufactory for over thirty years, between 1755 and his death in 1790, Julliard’s bent for landscape is due to Boucher, because the master apparently signaled that the Academy lacked landscape painters and encouraged him in this path when he was in Rome.” (2) We know a tapestry cartoon by the hand of François Boucher himself which presents the same subject, with the central group in exactly the same direction as in our picture. Our painting would thus seem to have been executed after a work by François Boucher and because of that, constitutes the only extant evidence of a lost work which served as the model for the Beauvais Manufactory. Our picture is naturally in reverse from the Manufactory’s tapestry worked in low-warp.
With parasol pines, a broken column and a classical sculpture fragment, the work illustrates the exquisite blend of inspiration between the pastoral countryside around Beauvais and Italian influences from his voyage to Rome which Boucher transmitted rigorously to his students. Via this sweet vision of a young gypsy woman predicting the future to a shepherdess, the artist evokes an idealized Italian countryside where voluptuous pleasure reigns. To suggest its harmony and pleasantness, the entire canvas is bathed in a uniform light which envelopes the relaxed bodies in a peaceful atmosphere.
Inspired by the landscapes of Abraham Bloemaert (Utrecht, 1564-1651), some of which he engraved, Boucher transmitted his interest to his workshop of rendering details, especially in the elements spreading out from the central motif, which tended to make the iconography disappear. The broad loose handling is determined by the domination of color over drawing: in presenting these pink rosy flesh tones so characteristic of Boucher, the artist more broadly suggested a manner of depicting pleasure via painting.
The immense success of François Boucher’s oeuvre gained him numerous imitators at the heart of the grand European courts. Painted, engraved, and woven thirteen times by the Royal Manufactory of Beauvais, La Bohemienne is a major subject which is followed by a pronounced taste in the mid-18th century for sentimental pastoral scenes, which were avidly sought by the most erudite 19th century English collectors.
We would like to thank Madame François Joulie for having had the kindness to accept to examine our picture in person, as well as for her invaluable aide in writing this entry.
(1) Citation from a report concerning our picture, by Madame Françoise Joulie, specialist of the work of François Boucher (1703-1770).
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
ANANOFF Alexandre, Boucher, Lausanne Paris: la Bibliothèque des arts, 1976
JOULIE Françoise, François Boucher : hier et aujourd’hui, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Louvre Museum, October 17th, 2003 – January 19th, 2004, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003
ROSENBERG Pierre and LAING Alastair, 1986, Boucher, exhibition catalogue, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 17th – May 4th, 1986, Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts, May 27th – August 17th, 1986, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, September 18th – January 5th, 1987, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux