Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (Paris 1713-1789)
Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (Paris 1713-1789)

Bacchus and Ariadne

Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (Paris 1713-1789)
Bacchus and Ariadne
with signature and date 'f. Boucher 1755' (lower left)
oil on canvas
32 x 25½ (81.3 x 64.7 cm.)
Marie-Charles-Louis d'Albert, 5th duc de Luynes (1717-1771), by 1757, and by descent to his son
Louis-Joseph-Charles Amable, 6th duc de Luynes (1748-1807), rue Saint-Dominique, hôtel de Luyns, until at least 1787; his sale, Paris, 21 November 1793, lot 48 (210 livres).
Paris art market, 1925.
Mercure de France, October 1757, I, p. 155.
L-V. Thiéry, Guide des amateurs et des étrangers voyageurs à Paris, Paris, 1787, II, p. 529.
Le Figaro artistique, LXII, 19 February 1925, as Boucher.
M. Halbout, Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre, Ph.D. diss, Paris, École du Louvre, 1970, no. 63.
M. Halbout and P. Rosenberg, 'A propos de Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre', Sanford Museum Bulletin, IV-V, 1975, pp. 12-19.
N. Lesur and O. Aaron, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 1714-1789: premier pientre du Roi, Paris, 2009, no. P 185.
Louis-Simon Lempereur, 1757.

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Lot Essay

Pierre’s charming mythological idyll is a paean to the consolations of love. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, helped the Greek hero Theseus, whom she loved, escape from her father’s labyrinth and certain death at the hands of the Minotaur. In return, he abandoned her on the island of Naxos. As she lamented her sorry fate, however, Bacchus, god of wine, was stricken with love for the beautiful maiden and came to her rescue; the two were soon married. In Pierre’s painting the happy couple reclines in blissful and sensual abandon, wrapped in a leopard skin and surrounded by satyrs bearings plates of grapes and glasses of wine, the god’s traditional emblems.

Bacchus and Ariadne has long sheltered under a false attribution to Pierre’s more famous contemporary, François Boucher, and bears a false Boucher signature. However, the creamy handling of paint and cool palette are entirely characteristic of Pierre’s distinctive style, and the painting was reproduced in a contemporary engraving by Louis-Simon Lempereur. Publication of the print, made in reverse of the painting, was announced in the Mercure de France in October 1757, providing a terminus ante quem for the picture. Furthermore, the engraving is dedicated to Marie-Charles-Louis d’Albert, 5th duc de Luynes (1717-1771), establishing him as the painting’s original owner. Following the death of the duc de Luynes in 1771, the painting was inventoried in his collection as a pendant to a canvas of Diana and Her Nymphs at the Bath by Charles-Joseph Natoire (art market, as of 2005; see Lesur & Aaron, 2009, under P 185), but the paintings were executed almost twenty years apart and were no doubt “married” in the duke’s collection because of their similar sizes and mythological subject matter.

Another, equally beautiful, composition of Bacchus and Ariadne, similar but with significant differences, was also painted by Pierre in the mid-1750s for another celebrated collector, Claude-Henri Watelet; it is today in the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University, which acquired it in 1971. Often exhibited, the Stanford painting is today well known, but it is the present painting that had greater fame in the 18th century, due no doubt to Lempereur’s popular engraving. The present work was catalogued as “location unknown” by Lesur and Aaron in their 2009 catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works, and they note that that many copies of it are recorded, as often as not misattributed to Boucher and his followers.

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