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FRANÇOIS BOUCHER (PARIS 1703-1770)
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FRANÇOIS BOUCHER (PARIS 1703-1770)

A RECLINING NYMPH PLAYING THE FLUTE WITH PUTTI, PERHAPS THE MUSE EUTERPE

Details
FRANÇOIS BOUCHER (PARIS 1703-1770)
A RECLINING NYMPH PLAYING THE FLUTE WITH PUTTI, PERHAPS THE MUSE EUTERPE
signed and dated 'f. Boucher 1752' (lower right)
oil on canvas
38½ x 51 1/8 in. (97.8 x 129.8 cm.)
in a Louis XV carved giltwood frame
Provenance
R. M. Cumberlege-Ware, Hendon Hall (fig. 1); Christie's London 1 June 1956, lot 28 (2,800 gns. to Heron).
Private collection, New York.
Literature
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Paris, 1976, II, p. 89, no. 389, fig. 1124.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, p. 119, no. 411.
J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, London, 1989, III, p. 86, under no. P481, 'a superior version'.
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Wildenstein, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, De Watteau à Prud'hon, 11-31 May 1956, no. 11.
London, Wildenstein & Co., Madame de Pompadour, 1992 (no catalogue).
Special notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium, which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

The present painting is perhaps meant to depict one of the nine muses of creative inspiration, but her attributes are not sufficiently distinctive to determine with certainty which muse she represents. As John Ingamells noted wryly (op. cit.), 'Boucher maintained a somewhat cavalier attitude towards antiquity, and his intention here is ambigious'. As in The Muse Clio and The Muse Erato, paintings also in the Champalimaud Collection but dating from 1758, the present picture depicts a scantily clad young woman - a nymph or a muse - reclining on a bed of clouds in the sky. In this case, she holds two flutes, one of which she pipes, and she is attended by putti who play a tambourine and present her with a floral crown. Ingamells proposed (in his discussion of another version of the subject in the Wallace Collection, fig. 2) that she might represent Euterpe, muse of music and lyrical poetry, who is said to have invented the flute. Alastair Laing, to whom we are grateful, has suggested tentatively (in correspondence) that she might be Thalia, muse of comedy and pastoral poetry, who is sometimes portrayed with musical instruments. The presence of a large straw hat and beribboned shepherd's staff, which the girl has obviously just cast aside, makes her identification as a deity harder to explain, though why a simple shepherdess should be making music in the heavens would be equally unclear.

What is certain is that the Champalimaud painting, whatever its subject, is one of the most delightful decorations painted by Boucher in the 1750s. Especially endearing are the nymph's gently evoked profile and the bravura energy of the tambourine-banging amorino, who swings down from the sky threating to land on the stomach of the other cupid - who, in a panic, tries to pull out of his path. The painting's inventive and vigorous execution confirm that it is the work of Boucher's own hand, and it probably predates the inferior version of the composition in the Wallace Collection (which is universally considered a workshop production, at best). The Champalimaud painting is signed by the artist and dated 1752, probably too early to have been one of the muses painted for Madame de Pompadour around 1756, and nothing is known of its history prior to its appearance at auction in the mid-1950s. However, like the other Champalimaud muses, its shape was originally scalloped, and it would certainly have served as one element in a grand decorative scheme, perhaps filling the space above a doorway.

The present painting is of a more compressed composition that the Wallace version, and the nymph is more discreetly draped. The nymph in the Wallace version is entirely naked, merely resting an elbow on the swath of blue velvet that surrounds - but does not cover - her. Technical examination of the Champalimaud canvas indicates that the white chemise covering the nymph's lower back and buttocks was added over her originally nude body, though this change was made by the artist himself, perhaps to mollify a demure patron. Likewise, the blue drapery was initially pink, and the swirl of white drapery beneath her knees was originally blue (as is evident to the naked eye).

A miniature version of the Champalimaud painting (minus the cupid with the tambourine) by Jacques Charlier (c. 1705-1790) is in the Wallace Collection, London (inv. M48).
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