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signed and dated 'f. Boucher 1766' (on the table de nuit, lower right)
oil on canvas, oval
20 7/8 x 16 3/8 in. (53.1 x 41.6 cm.)
in a French Régence carved giltwood frame
Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset, receveur général des Finances; (+), sale, Remy-Juilliot, Paris, 27 February-25 March 1777, lot 197, sold with a pendant, now lost, 'Boucher. Deux autres tableaux de meme grandeur que les precedents, composés aussi chacun d'une figure de femme' (1400 livres to Quesnay).
Baron de Saint-Julien; sale, Lebrun, Paris, 21 June 1784, lot 67, with a pendant, now lost, 'François Boucher. 67. Deux tableaux faisant pendans, de forme ovale en hauteur. Ils représentent deux femmes à leur toilette, dont une prenant un bain de pieds; elle est vue de face, les jambes dans un seau de porcelaine. Plusieurs accessoires de ces deux compositions qui faissaient partie de la collection M. Randon de Boisset. No. 197 de son Catalogue. Haut. 19 pouc. 6 lig. larg. 15.T'.
Anonymous sale; Gérard, Paris, 6 April 1833, lot 12, 'Boucher, Jeune femme se lavant les pieds. Tableau d'une couleur agréable et bien dessiné'.
with Arnold Seligmann & fils, Paris.
Benjamin Lévy; Parke-Bernet, New York, 10 May 1952, lot 243 ($2,900).
René Fribourg; (+), Sotheby's, London, 26 June 1963, lot 73 ($4,500 to T. Rogers).
E. and J. Goncourt, L'Art du XVIII siècle, Paris, 1880, I, p. 200.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906 (with catalogue raisonné by Soullié & Masson), no. 1177.
P. de Nolhac, François Boucher, premier peintre du Roi, Paris, 1907 (with a catalogue by G. Pannier), p. 136.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Paris, 1976, II, p. 260, no. 626, fig. 1650.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, p. 138, no. 661.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Genre Painting in Europe 1500-1900, 1954, no. 54 (lent by René Fribourg).
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Lot Essay

This charming scene of everyday life in ancien régime Paris depicts a pretty young woman bathing her feet in a great porcelain urn. She is seated in a Louis XV bergère in her boudoir, a heavy golden damask curtain pulled open to reveal her unmade bed behind her. A pitcher that held the water with which she washes sits on a small table beside her; a cat sleeps between her discarded slippers. The girl pulls at a blue ribbon that loosens her chemise as she looks out of the picture, perhaps toward an unseen intruder (though the heart carved in the back of the table might indicate that the visitor, expected or not, is more than welcome). The picture, which was commended for its warm, gilded palette and superb drawing when it was sold in 1833, is vigorous in handling, refined in every detail and illuminated with an uncannily naturalistic early morning light. Signed and dated 1766 - just four years before the artist's death - the painting reveals not the slightest diminution of Boucher's creative powers; it is a late masterpiece in keeping with the best of the erotic cabinet pictures and small-scale boudoir scenes for which he has always been admired.

The painting is first recorded in the illustrious collection of Randon de Boisset (1708-1776), receveur général des Finances under Louis XV, whose estate sale in 1777 was the most widely advertised and promoted of the 18th century. The collector was a friend of Joseph Vernet and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (who painted his portrait, fig.1), and he was particularly close to Boucher, with whom he travelled through the Netherlands in 1766, the year the present painting was executed. Randon de Boisset never married and was a private man who, unlike other prominent collectors of the day, was little inclined to open his collection to the artists and connoisseurs who petitioned for invitations to see it. The catalogue of his collection included 19 paintings and more than 50 drawings and pastels by Boucher, including a large number of galant or erotic works, the most notable being the celebrated Hercules and Omphale (an early painting now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow).

A Young Woman taking a footbath is certainly to be considered gently erotic, lingering as it does on the pretty model's barely concealed breasts and provocatively uncovered shoulder and knees, the suggestively rumpled bed and symbolically allusive cat. However, it appears to be only the mildest of a group of four identically sized oval paintings of erotic interiors that were sold in two lots in Randon de Boisset's collection (figs. 2-5). Each lot was identified as consisting of a pair of paintings by Boucher, the subjects of which were only vaguely classified: lot 196 was described as 'Deux tableaux composés chacun d'une femme, sur toile de forme ovale de 19 pouces de haut, sur 15 pouces de large.' ('Two paintings, each of a woman, on oval canvasses 19 pouces high by 15 pouces wide.'), and lot 197 as 'Deux autres tableaux le même grandeur que les précedents, composés aussi chacun d'une figure de femme.' ('Two other canvasses of the same size as the preceding ones, each consisting also of the figure of a woman.')

One might suspect that these anodyne descriptions masked less-than-innocent subjects, but it would be virtually impossible to connect them with specific paintings, were it not for the existence of a hand-written annotation in one copy of Randon de Boisset's sale catalogue, and more complete descriptions in the catalogues of subsequent owners' sales. Beneath the entry for lot 196 in the catalogue of Randon de Boisset's sale, the owner of the catalogue noted that the pictures - which sold to Dubois for 1250 livres - were, essentially, 'nudités', consisting of a 'une femme qui pisse et l'autre une femme qui montre son derrière' ('one, a woman pissing, and the other, a view of a woman showing off her behind'). The paintings, known as La Toilette intime and La Jupe relevée, are in a private collection; misdated by Ananoff to 1742, they are clearly works of the 1760s. A close examination of the pair indicates that they were painted in a manner identical to Young Woman taking a footbath, are set in the same boudoir interior and share with the Champalimaud painting several of the same accessories, including the small wooden table.

That Young Woman taking a footbath was included in the succeeding lot in Randon de Boisset's sale (where it sold to Quesnay for 1400 livres) is confirmed by the sale catalogue of its next owner, the Baron de Saint-Julien. That 1784 catalogue could not be less ambiguous: lot 67 consisted of pendant paintings by Boucher, 'de forme ovale en hauteur. Ils représentent deux femmes à leur toilette, dont une prenant un bain de pieds; elle est vue face, les jambes dans un seau de porcelaine. Plusiers accessories bien distribuées ajoutent à l'agrément de ces deux compositions, qui faisoient partie de la collection de M. Randon de Boisset. No. 197 de son Catalogue. Haut. 19 pouc. 6 lig. larg. 15. T.' ('...of upright oval shape. They represent two women at their toilettes, the one having a footbath; she is seen full-faced, her legs in a porcelain bucket. Several accessories appear in both compositions, which were part of the collection of M. Randon de Boisset. No. 197 in his catalogue. 19 pouce 6 lignes high by 15 pouces wide. Canvas.').

It will be noted that the Saint-Julien catalogue describes the Champalimaud painting in detail, but is mute on the subject of its pendant beyond noting that it likewise depicts a woman at her toilette. One may presume that that is because the pendant had a more intimate and forbidden theme. Indeed, Alastair Laing, to whom we are grateful, has identified the subject of his lost pendant as a 'Woman on a Bidet', thereby confirming that all four pictures - which were presumably displayed as a set in Randon de Boisset's private cabinet - sought to titillate the connoisseur, not through the depiction of overt sexual acts, but by allowing him to steal a peak into the private, unseen world of the feminine toilette. The almost hidden young man peering through the window at the urinating lady in the background of La toilette intime embodies this voyeuristic impulse. (When it and its pendant were sold at auction in Paris in 1845, they were identified, simply, as 'Les Mystères de la toilette.'). Perhaps it should not come as a surprise, therefore that Boucher painted alternative 'public' versions of La jupe relevée and La toilette intime in which the same women are posed in exactly the same way and wearing the same costumes, but are instead engaged in their respectable social roles as wives and mothers - fully clothed and playing with a child and a dog, respectively. Glimpses into their private worlds, as Boucher well knew, were to be reserved for only the few.


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