Francois Boucher

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BOUCHER, FRANÇOIS (17031770), French painter, draftsman, and etcher. Boucher was born and died in Paris, where he lived out his illustrious career as one of the preeminent figures of the European art world during the eighteenth century. His father, Nicolas Bouché, was an artisan-painter with connections to the Académie de Saint Luca vestige of the old guild system that was eventually suppressed and superseded by the more prestigious Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Boucher was celebrated for his gallant rococo mythologies and picturesque pastorals. Over the course of his career he would rise to the highest ranks of the academy: five years before his death he was named its director and first painter to the King. It is probable that Boucher's father was his first teacher; however, the historical sources being regrettably laconic on the subject, little is known about his beginnings as an artist. In his youth he supported himself by working as an etcher and draftsman. He studied for a short time with the great colorist painter François Lemoyne and made the requisite trip to Italy to study after winning the Prix de Rome in 1723 (though without the official funding usually accorded to prizewinners). During his time in Italy, he seems to have attended most closely to the work of such baroque artists as Luca Giordano and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and learned particularly important lessons from the latter in terms of his subject matter and bravura brushwork. On Boucher's return to Paris about 1731, he set about the ambitious task of winning admission to the academy as a history painter, a goal he attained in 1734 with his reception piece Rinaldo and Armida (Musée du Louvre, Paris). By that time he had also made a name for himself as a virtuoso painter of lusciously rendered mythological subjects, such as Venus Asking Vulcan for Arms for Aeneas (1732, Louvre), Cephalus and Aurora (1733, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy) and The Rape of Europa (17321734, Wallace Collection, London).

Soon after his admission to the academy, Boucher began to receive official commissions from the crown and enjoyed unwavering support from the court and the academy until the end of his life. Though he had many prominent patrons, his name would become identified with that of the marquise de Pompadour, the longtime favorite of Louis XV, for whom he performed numerous functions, from painter of decorative ensembles, to portraitist, to drawing instructor. It was for the marquise that he produced some of his most spectacular canvases, including The Rising and Setting of the Sun (1753, Wallace Collection, London), and portraits such as the 1756 Portrait of Pompadour, now in Munich (Alte Pinakothek).

Boucher's association with Pompadour was one factor that fueled the increasingly hostile attitudes toward his work that began to be voiced by salon critics at midcentury, when he was at the height of his artistic powers and setting the example for many young painters of the French school. His connection to the marquise similarly affected the subsequent critical fortunes of this artist who, until recently, has been dismissed as little more than the favorite painter of frivolous and decadent aristocratsespecially of aristocratic women. Among other things, this has meant that Boucher's place in (rather than in opposition to) the culture of the Enlightenment has only recently begun to receive consideration.

The critical reaction against Boucher (and rococo art more generally) acquired its most definitive and eloquent expressions in the salons of the philosophe Denis Diderot (17131784), though these texts were not widely disseminated until the nineteenth century. Like earlier critics, Diderot objected to Boucher's unapologetically artificial colors, which were very often likened to women's cosmetics, and his tendency to use brilliant painterly effects and sensual subjects over substantive, edifying narrative. The painter's failure to heed the orthodoxies of aesthetic doctrines such as the hierarchy of genres and convenance (agreement) between subject matter and mode of rendering also occasioned critical commentary. The critical reaction against Boucher, the emblematic rococo artist, was not purely an artistic matter, however, but was connected to a broader context of Enlightenment ideologies concerning class and gender.

In addition to his stunning prolixity (Boucher is supposed to have produced some ten thousand drawings), what is striking about this artist is his versatility. Sought-after as much for his talents as a "decorative" painter as for his cabinet pictures, Boucher produced designs for tapestries, sculptures, theatrical sets and costumes, and porcelain. An etcher and book illustrator, he sometimes tried his hand at pastel and fan painting and is even said to have once decorated Easter eggs for Louis XV. As a teacher he was well liked, respected, and influentialhis most famous pupil was Jean-Honoré Fragonard (17321806).

See also Academies of Art ; Diderot, Denis ; Fragonard, Jean-Honoré ; France, Art in ; Pompadour, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson ; Rococo.


Brunel, Georges. François Boucher. Paris, 1986.

Desboulmiers, J.-A. "Eloge de M. Boucher, premier peintre du roi et directeur de l'Académie royale de peinture & sculpture, mort le 30 mai 1770." Mercure de France (September 1770): 181189.

Diderot, Denis. Diderot on Art. Translated by John Goodman. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1995.

Hyde, Melissa. "The 'Makeup' of the Marquise. Boucher's Portrait of Pompadour at her Toilette." Art Bulletin 82, no. 3 (September 2000): 453475.

Laing, Alastair, ed. François Boucher (17031770). Exh. cat. New York, 1986.

Melissa Hyde

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François Boucher

The French painter François Boucher (1703-1770), a leading exponent of the eloquent and frivolous rococo tradition, was perhaps the greatest decorative artist of the 18th century and a consummate draftsman.

François Boucher seems to have been perfectly attuned to his times, a period which had cast off the pomp and circumstance characteristic of the preceding age of Louis XIV and had replaced formality and ritual by intimacy and artificial manners. Boucher was very much bound to the whims of this frivolous society, and he painted primarily what his patrons wanted to see. It appears that their sight was best satisfied by amorous subjects, both mythological and contemporary. The painter was only too happy to supply them, creating the boudoir art for which he is so famous.

Boucher was born in Paris on Sept. 29, 1703, the son of Nicolas Boucher, a decorator who specialized in embroidery design. Recognizing his son's artistic potential, the father placed young Boucher in the studio of François Lemoyne, a decorator-painter who worked in the manner of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Though Boucher remained in Lemoyne's studio only a short time, he probably derived his love of delicately voluptuous forms and his brilliant color palette from the older master's penchant for mimicking the Venetian decorative painters.

Early Work

Boucher next joined the workshop of the engraver Jean François Cars, where he learned the fundamentals of this art and also provided many illustrations for the engravers in the workshop. Among the most notable was a series of drawings for Daniel's Histoire de France, engraved by Baquoy. Later, Boucher was to illustrate the Molière comedies, which were engraved by his boyhood friend Laurent Cars.

The engraver Jean de Julienne entrusted Boucher with the engraving of many of Antoine Watteau's drawings for the important Recueil Julienne. Boucher, who never knew Watteau personally, came to know his style intimately; the indelible impression it made upon him both stylistically and iconographically is evident in Boucher's painting.

In 1723 Boucher won first prize in the Academy competition, which normally would have meant going to Rome to study as a pensionnaire du roi. However, since he did not enjoy the favor of the Duc d'Antin, Superintendent of the King's Buildings, Boucher was denied the trip. By 1725 he had saved enough money to go to Rome with the painter Carle Vanloo. Boucher's sojourn in Italy seems to have affected his style very little, for the great classical schools of Italian painting were incompatible with his temperament. Upon his return to Paris in 1731, he was immediately swept up in the world of opera and high fashion, a world with which he was in complete harmony. And it was his destiny to provide it with an appropriate pictorial expression.

In 1733 Boucher married Marie Jeanne Buzeau, who frequently modeled for his paintings. Two girls and a boy were born of the marriage. Juste, the son, died at a young age; both daughters, Elizabeth Victoire and Marie Emilie, married pupils of Boucher: the painters Jean Baptiste Deshays and Pierre Antoine Boudouin, both of whom predeceased their father-in-law.

Boucher was admitted as a full member to the French Academy in 1734 with the diploma piece Rinaldo and Armida. The painting already reflected the major sources of his style, namely, Peter Paul Rubens, Watteau, and Tiepolo and other Venetian decorative painters.

Madame de Pompadour

Boucher soon caught the attention of Madame de Pompadour, who virtually adopted him as her official painter. The artist became her friend and teacher, instructing her in drawing and etching and serving as artistic counselor for her art purchases. Boucher decorated her several residences, most notably the châteaux of Bellevue and Crécy. Thanks to the patronage of Madame de Pompadour and her brother, the Marquis de Marigny, Director of the King's Buildings, the painter soon enjoyed the favor of Louis XV. In 1755 Boucher became inspector of the Gobelins tapestry works and in the following year, succeeding Jean Baptiste Oudry, its director. It was at this time that he executed many tapestry designs and decorations for the Paris opera and public fetes; some of his tapestry cartoons for the Gobelins and Beauvais works are masterpieces in this medium. Upon the death of Carle Vanloo in 1765, Boucher, once more through the efforts of Madame de Pompadour, was appointed First Painter to the King, and that year he also became director of the French Academy. He died on May 30, 1770, in Paris.

Boucher was an extremely prolific artist and seems to have been able to turn out his pink and blue "confections" with unparalleled ease. He executed more than 1, 000 paintings, at least 200 engravings, and well over 10, 000 drawings in various media. Although extremely prolific, he never bored by endless repetition, so extraordinarily inventive was he in his landscapes, portraits, genre themes, and mythological and religious scenes. Boucher lived long enough to see his artistic popularity wane, for after 1760 his work was attacked by the famed Encyclopedist and art critic Denis Diderot, an early exponent of a return to the antique.

Further Reading

There are no recent studies in English of Boucher's work. Worthy of consideration, however, are Lady Emilia Francis Dilke, French Painters of the XVIIIth Century (1899), and Catherine M. Bearne, A Court Painter and His Circle: François Boucher (1703-1770) (1914). Of particular interest is Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, French Eighteenth Century Painters (3 vols., 1880-1882; abr. trans. 1948), since it was this work that rehabilitated Boucher's reputation and significance in the evolution of rococo art. R.H. Wilenski, French Painting (1931; rev. ed. 1949), contains a chapter on Boucher and a list of his characteristic pictures. See also S. Rocheblave, French Painting in the XVIIIth Century (1937; trans. 1937); Arno Schönberger and Halldor Soehner, The Rococo Age: Art and Civilization of the 18th Century (1959; trans. 1960); lan McInnes, Painter, King and Pompadour: François Boucher at the Court of Louis XV (1965); and Michael Levey, Rococo to Revolution: Major Trends in Eighteenth-Century Painting (1966).

Additional Sources

Ananoff, Alexandre, François Boucher, Lausanne: La Bibliotheque des arts, 1976.

Brunel, Georges., Boucher, New York, N.Y.: Vendome Press, 1986. □

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François Boucher (fräNswä´ bōōshā´), 1703–70, French painter. Boucher's art embodied the spirit of his time; it was elegant, frivolous, and artificial. He studied briefly with François Le Moyne but was also influenced by Watteau, many of whose works he engraved. At the age of 20 he won the Grand Prix, and from 1727 to 1731 he studied in Italy. On his return he rapidly became the most fashionable painter of his day and a teacher and favorite of Mme de Pompadour. He produced a vast number of pictures, decorations, tapestry designs, stage settings for ballet and opera, and fine etchings. As a result, Boucher enjoyed many academic and official honors including that of director of the Gobelins tapestry works. Fragonard was his pupil for a time. The Louvre and the Wallace Collection, London, excel in selections of Boucher's work. He is well represented in the United States by his Toilet of Venus and Birth and Triumph of Venus in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. Fine examples of his work are in the Frick Collection, New York City, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

See study by A. Laing (1986).

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Boucher, François (1703–70) French painter, decorator, and engraver. His style was the epitome of rococo frivolity and was distinctly risqué in tone. He was immensely successful and widely imitated. He produced more than 11,000 historical, mythological, genre, and landscape paintings. Boucher became director of the Gobelins tapestry works (1755), and was also First Painter to Louis XVI.

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