François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
The Collection of James and Marilynn Alsdorf represents a notable achievement in the history of American connoisseurship. Steadily acquired throughout the latter half of the twentieth century by two of Chicago’s most important civic and cultural patrons, the Collection is unparalleled in its breadth and quality, illuminating the remarkable feats of human artistry across time and geography. For the Alsdorfs, collecting represented a unique opportunity for exploration, adventure, and the pursuit of beauty, extending from the art-filled rooms of their Chicago residence to distant continents and historic lands. The couple’s philosophy of collecting, as Marilynn Alsdorf explained, was simple yet profound: “We looked for objects,” she said, “to delight our eyes and souls….”From the 1950s, the Alsdorfs were especially ardent patrons of the Art Institute of Chicago, gifting or lending hundreds of works to the museum commencing in the earliest days of their collecting. A longtime AIC trustee, Mrs. Alsdorf served for a time as president of the museum’s Women’s Board, while Mr. Alsdorf served as AIC chairman from 1975 to 1978. The couple’s decades of generosity toward the AIC would extend past Mr. Alsdorf’s death and into the twenty-first century. In 1997, Mrs. Alsdorf presented the AIC with some four hundred works of Southeast Asian art, a transformative bequest celebrated by the landmark exhibition A Collecting Odyssey: Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art from the James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection. Less than a decade later, Mrs. Alsdorf made yet another monumental gift when she supported the construction of the Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art.James and Marilynn Alsdorf, Kenilworth Miami, 1950. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of consignor
François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)

A nude woman playing a flute, seen from behind

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
A nude woman playing a flute, seen from behind
black, red and white chalk with pastel on blue paper
9 1/2 x 14 in. (24 x 36 cm)
Paul de Cayeux de Sénarpont (1884-1964) and Galerie Cailleux, Paris, by descent;
Jean de Cayeux (1913-2009), Paris (L. 4461).
with Matthiesen Gallery, London.
Lord Thomson of Fleet (1923-2006).
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 14 April 1992, lot 161.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, François Boucher, Lausanne and Paris, 1976, II, pp. 90-91, under nos. 389-90, fig. 1125.
M. Roland Michel, Le Dessin français au XVIIe siècle, Fribourg, 1987, p. 190, fig. 227.
London, Matthiesen Gallery, Exhibition of French Master Drawings of the 18th Century, 1950, no. 10.
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Paris, Le Dessin français de Watteau à Prud'hon, April 1951, no. 7.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Figures nues de l'école française: depuis les maîtres de Fontainebleau, June 1953 (ill.)
Grasse, Musée Fragonard, Femmes. Dessins de maîtres et petit maîtres du XVIIIme siècles, August 1962, no. 5.
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Exposition François Boucher, May-June 1964, no. 37.

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Lot Essay

Delicately rendered with black and white chalk, this sensually reclining woman exemplifies Boucher mastery at depicting the female nude. The artist achieved the pearl-like shimmer of the woman’s skin by building up layers of white chalk on top of the cream-colored paper, and enhancing it with a light blue background. The figure relates to the painting Nymph playing a flute with putti, signed and dated 1752 (Fig. 1; Ananoff and Wildenstein, op. cit., no. 389, ill.; sold Christie's, London, 7 July 2005, lot 34), where she appears with her back half covered by drapery. Probably based on the Alsdorf drawing is the studio replica of the same picture in the Wallace Collection, where, just as in the drawing, the muse sits on the drapery rather than being covered by it (inv. P481; J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, London, 1989, III, no. P481, ill.).
Ingamells wanted to identify the figure with Euterpe, muse of music and lyrical poetry (who is also said to have invented the flute), while Alistair Laing suggested that she might be Thalia, muse of comedy and pastoral poetry, who is sometimes portrayed with musical instruments. The placement of the figure at the center of the sheet and the care given to execution, could indicate that this drawing was made by Boucher as an independent work of art , as argued by Alistair Laing, whom we thank for his assistance and for confirming the attribution to Boucher.
Fig. 1. François Boucher, A reclining nymph playing a flute with putti (possibly the Muse Euterpe), 1752, Private collection.

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