François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)

The Landscape Painter

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
The Landscape Painter
signed with initials 'f.B.F' (lower right, on the chair)
oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (40.8 x 32 cm.)
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, sculptor and Rector of the Académie des Beaux-Arts (1704-1778), Paris; his sale (†), Le Brun, Paris, 10 August 1778, lot 18, sold together with its apparent pendant, Le sculpteur dans son atelier, actually by Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre, where acquired by his son,
Pierre-Hippolyte Lemoyne (1748-1828), Paris; his sale (†), Duchesne, Paris, 19 May 1828, lot 74 (FF 120).
James-Alexandre, Comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier (1776-1855), Hôtel Pourtalès, x-apple-data-detectors://7; his sale (†), on the premises, 27 March-4 April 1865, lot 228 (FF 7,000).
Halil Şerif Pasha (1831-1879), Paris; his sale, Paris, 16-18 January 1868, lot 72 (FF 14,000). 
Anatole Auguste Hulot (1811-1891), Paris; his sale (†), Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 9-10 May 1892, lot 80 (FF 25,000).
Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965), Paris.
Confiscated by the Devisenschutzkommando from the above and relinquished to the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg at the Jeu de Paume, 12 October 1942.
Transferred to the Nazi depot at Neuschwanstein, then shipped to Lager Peter, Alt Aussee, Austria, 27 October 1944. 
Repatriated to France, 18 October 1945 and restituted to Baronne Alexandrine de Rothschild, 19 March 1944. 
Baron Edmond Adolphe de Rothschild (1926-1997), Château de Prégny, Switzerland.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Paris, 21 June 2012, lot 52.
with Jean-Luc Baroni, London, where acquired by the present owner.

Ed. and J. de Goncourt, L'Art du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1880, I, p. 199, ‘Vte Collet’.
A. Michel, François Boucher: ‘Les Artistes célèbres’, Paris, 1889, p. 96.
G. Kahn, Boucher: Biographie critique, Paris, 1904, p. 44, illustrated, erroneously listed as at the Louvre.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906, nos. 1129 and 1230.
P. de Nolhac, François Boucher, Paris, 1907, pp. 37, 143, illustrated opposite p. 10.
H. MacFall, ‘Boucher, the man, his time, his art and his significance 1703-1770’, The Connoisseur, 1908, p. 144, illustrated.
P. de Nolhac, Boucher: premier peintre du roi, Paris, 1925, p. 76, illustrated.
A. Ananoff, ‘Attributions et identifications nouvelles de quelques dessins de François Boucher et de Gabriel de Saint Aubin’, Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire de l'Art français, 1965, pp. 175-176.
R. Shoolman Slatkin, François Boucher in North American Collections: 100 Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Washington and Chicago, 1974, under no. 33.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne, 1976, I, p. 209, no. 76, fig. 338, as by Boucher and Pierre.
François Boucher 1703-1770, exhibition catalogue, Paris, New York and Detroit, 1986-1987, pp. 150-151, under no. 22.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, L'Art au XVIIIe siècle, 1883-1884, no. 17.

Lot Essay

Boucher’s Landscape Painter caused a ripple of excitement in the art world when it appeared at auction in Paris in June 2012, because the painting – only known from an 18th-century engraving and an old black and white photograph made when it was in the collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild – had not been exhibited publicly since the 19th century and was unseen even by the specialists of Boucher’s art. Covered in thick layers of discolored varnish, when the work came to public attention, its debut nonetheless disappointed no one: it was self-evidently one of Boucher’s earliest masterpieces, a small canvas overflowing with wit, charm, invention and technical virtuosity. It can be compared to the better-known variation of the same subject by Boucher, also called The Landscape Painter, that entered the Louvre as the gift of Dr. Louis La Caze in 1869 (fig. 1), but its complexity and ambition are greater, its painterly touch even more masterly.

The present painting is related to two other small-scale genre scenes by Boucher depicting modest, rustic interiors, made in conscious emulation of the style of David Teniers, Frans van Mieris and Willem Kalf, 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painters widely admired by French collectors in the 18th century. Boucher painted his trio of cabinet pictures in the early to mid-1730s, shortly after his return to Paris from Rome in 1731. The publication of an engraving of one of the paintings, La Belle cuisinière, was announced in April 1735, giving a probable terminus point for all three. In La Belle cuisinière (fig. 2; Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris), a handsome young servant boy embraces a pretty kitchen maid and implores her attentions; in La Belle villageoise (fig. 3; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena), a voluptuous young mother cares for her three small children. In The Landscape Painter, the artist sits in his studio before his easel, fully absorbed in putting the final touches to a new landscape; a young assistant in a tricorn peeks from behind the easel as he enters the studio carrying a portfolio; another assistant – this time, a self-confident adolescent – pauses from grinding colors to peer over the painter’s shoulder and assess his progress, while the painter’s wife and swaddled infant look on from behind. A single drawing for the painting survives, a beautiful trois crayons study for the assistant carrying the portfolio; it was last known in the collection of J.P. Heseltine, London (fig. 4).

The three compositions share nearly identical settings, depicting the homes of rustic laborers of a modest class: dark, ramshackle and cluttered interiors, with disorder everywhere – pots and cauldrons scattered across floors, open cupboards with jugs, bottles, woven baskets and candlesticks precariously balanced. (In each, Boucher shows himself a master of still life.) The floor of the landscape painter’s garret seems to be made of dirt, and a side of meat and a bunch of onions hang from the ceiling to keep them away from vermin. The dilapidation is charmingly picturesque, but has the feel of lived experience, and it may well be that Boucher – himself barely 30 years old, recently married (in 1733) and newly a father (1735), working diligently in difficult conditions to make a successful career for himself and his family – brought more than a little autobiography to his rendering of the scene, characteristically romanticized as it is. Indeed, the sense of authenticity in the painting is so palpable that when it appeared in the posthumous sale of the architect Pierre-Hippolyte Lemoyne in 1828, the landscape painter was, not surprisingly, identified as depicting Boucher himself, the woman his wife and the pupil with the portfolio under his arm as Deshays, Boucher’s son-in-law. The ages of the various characters, in view of the presumed date of the painting, make the purported identifications wholly fanciful.)

Although the signs of poverty are evident, the painter wears a striped dressing gown abundantly lined in heavy red velvet, and his red bonnet, while creased, is not without a certain chicness. His assistant is barefoot, yet he wears his three-cornered hat at a jaunty angle. Despite the cramped conditions and congestion of the studio, everyone in the painting seems happy; indeed, the same can be said of all of the characters in Boucher’s trio of ‘lowlife’ interiors. It is interesting to contrast these scenes to the kitchen interiors being painted by Chardin at the exact same moment. Boucher paints the modest workers in their own, unvarnished dwellings; Chardin depicts domestic servants at work in the homes of their wealthy employers. Georges Brunel (1986) perceptively compared the vision of the two artists, observing: 'Pictures like [Boucher’s] probably give us a better idea of the dwellings of the common people than Chardin’s contemporary paintings…Order reigns in the kitchens and offices that Chardin paints: the floor is swept and the utensils in their places…'. On the other hand, Brunel notes, 'Boucher’s characters…seem to congregate, they touch and brush against one another in rooms apparently too small and too crowded for anyone to move about with ease…But this hubbub with all these people living on top of each other, corresponds to everything we know about living conditions in the 18th century, particularly in Paris. The pictures like those Boucher paints in 1735 cannot be criticized for their arbitrariness and fantasy; they are realistic in their way, gay with a touch of Rabelaisian spirit.'

Depictions of artists at work had appeared frequently in European art since the Renaissance, but almost invariably in guises that exalted the artistic calling, invoking biblical or mythological precedents, such as ‘St. Luke Painting the Virgin’ or ‘Zeuxis Choosing his Models for the Portrait of Helen of Troy’. Boucher broke with these traditions in celebrating his craft and exalting human creativity in the guise of a humble young painter alone at his easel. At almost the same moment, Chardin depicted The Young Draftsman (1738; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; with autograph versions in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, and a private collection, New York), representing a poor young artist copying from drawings of the nude model, an essential stage in academic training. In Boucher’s other rendering of a Landscape Painter in the Louvre, the artist, alone in his workshop, takes a pause from the act of painting to study the sketches beside his easel that he had presumably drawn ‘en plein air’. As Alastair Laing has noted, in the present painting, the painter works ‘fa presto’, straight from his imagination, without nature or sketches to guide him; here he confronts his canvas, oblivious to the distractions around him, dedicated only to his work and following only the dictates of creative inspiration.

It is not known if The Landscape Painter was a commissioned work or who its original owner might have been, but it was first recorded in 1778 in the sale of the estate of the distinguished sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, where it was sold with a pendant, The Sculptor’s Studio, by Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (fig. 5; present location unknown). Pierre’s painting, which is of identical dimensions to the present lot and has a complementary composition, was presumably painted many years after Boucher’s painting specifically to pair with it; The Sculptor’s Studio was almost certainly the painting exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1747, no. 56. The two paintings were also engraved as pendants by Marie-Madeleine Igonet, the plates dated May 1752. Given the subject of Pierre’s painting, it seems likely that Lemoyne commissioned Pierre around 1747 to make a painting of a sculptor contemplating his work in order to form a pair with the painting by Boucher already in his possession.

More from Old Masters Part I

View All
View All