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François Boucher(Paris1703 - Paris1770)

At least since the publication in the mid-19th century of the Goncourt brothers' famous essay, Boucher has seemed to many to be the quintessential painter of eighteenth-century France. His voluptuous mythologies and elegant pastorals have been admired or abused according to the regard in which the Rococo style is held.

Boucher was born in Paris and trained with the engraver Cars, contributing to the scheme to engrave the works of Watteau, whose art was thus a formative influence. He also worked in the studio of François Lemoyne, one of the chief protagonists of the colouristic, Rubéniste tendency in France. In 1723 Boucher won the Académie Royale's Grand Prix, but it was not until 1727 that he left for Rome, at his own expense and in the company of Carle and Louis-Michel van Loo. There he fell under the spell of the decorative painters of the Baroque—Albani, Pietro da Cortona, and Luca Giordano. Returning to Paris in 1731, he was received as a member of the Academy in 1734 on presentation of Rinaldo and Armida (Paris, Louvre). By 1736 his mature style was formed, altering little during his long career.

Boucher worked successfully in several genres. He treated mythological themes either with a delicate and very modern eroticism—as in The Bath of Diana (1742; Paris, Louvre)—or with robust splendour—as with The Rising of the Sun (1753; London, Wallace Collection). He painted scenes of contemporary fashionable life, including the delightful La Marchande de modes (1746; Stockholm, Nationalmuseum). He was a stylish if not very penetrating portrait painter—his images of his most famous patron Mme. de Pompadour are the best. He also painted landscapes in a sweetened version of seventeenth-century Dutch style. And he occasionally painted devotional subjects, among them the graceful Nativity painted for Mme. de Pompadour's chapel at Bellevue (1750; Lyon, Musee des Beaux-Arts). In all of these modes the predominant atmosphere is one of happy escapism, supported by an easy grace of style, a luscious touch, and shimmering, nacreous colouring.

In a career supported by wealthy private clients, Louis XV, and Mme. de Pompadour, Boucher produced not only easel paintings, but also cartoons for the Beauvais and Gobelins tapestry factories, made designs for Sèvres porcelain, painted decorative schemes for Versailles and Fontainebleau, and designed sets for theatre and opera. By his own reckoning he made more than 10,000 drawings and 1,000 paintings and oil sketches. During the 1760s Boucher's art, which had dominated mid-century fashionable taste in France (and as far away as Sweden and Russia), came under attack from critics looking for morally uplifting subjects expressed in a dignified and temperate style. The most scathing criticism came from Diderot, who fumed and raged at what he saw as Boucher's pictorial slovenliness and personal turpitude. Despite this, and despite an impairment of vision that gave a curious reddish tonality to his last paintings, Boucher remained popular to the end with his powerful patrons, and was granted the title of Premier Peintre du Roi on the death of Carle van Loo in 1765.

Boucher is represented in the following collections: Alte Pinakothek, Munich; Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco; Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Louvre, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota; Musée d'Art Roger-Quilliot, Clermont-Ferrand, France; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Gallery, London; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Columbia; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Bowes Museum, County Durham, UK; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Currier Gallery of Art, New Hampshire; E.G. Bührle Collection, Zurich; Frick Collection, New York; Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Germany; Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Scotland; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Musée Ingres, Montauban, France; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, France; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, France; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, France; Musée Jenisch, Vevey, Switzerland; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France; National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; Nationalmuseum, Sweden; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Prado Museum, Madrid; Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Residenzgalerie Salzburg, Austria; Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri; The British Museum, London; The Wallace Collection, London; Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid; Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, California; Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany; Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, amongst others.