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

'La Cueillette des Cerises'

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
'La Cueillette des Cerises'
oil on canvas
35 7/8 x 28¼ in. (91.1 x 71.8 cm.)
in a carved and giltwood Louis XIV frame
M. de Thesson, 'Maréchal des Logis de Madame'; his sale (+), Joullain, Paris, 24 November 1783, lot 57 (19 livres to Boileau).
Lucien Guiraud.
with Galerie Cailleux, Paris.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 23 October 1998, lot 98 ($552,500 to the present owner).
R. Huyghe, La peinture française des XVIIè siècles, Paris, 1965, pl. 69.
A. Blunt, The Iveagh Bequest: Catalogue of Paintings, London, 1971, third edition, p. 10, no. 44.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, François Boucher, Lausanne, 1976, II, p. 249, no. 605, fig. 1618.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, no. 605.
G. Brunel, Boucher, New York, 1986, p. 265.
Paris, Chambre syndicale de la curiosité et des beaux-arts, L'art français au service de la science française, 25 April-15 May 1923, no. 4.
London, 25 Park Lane, [Phillip Sassoon residence], Three French Reigns, 1933, no. 513.
Paris, Musée des Art Décoratifs, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la curiosité, 1934, no. 4.
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Schönheit des 18. Jahrhunderts, 10 September -6 November 1955, no. 34.
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; and Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Heritage de France, 16 November 1961-18 March 1962.
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, François Boucher, 1964, no. 84.
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Les étapes de la création, 1989, no. 21.
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Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

This joyful scene of countryside delights is one of the most enchanting late creations by the great master of French rococo painting, François Boucher. With a spirited brush and much wit, Boucher distills both the tender innocence and the hedonistic sensuality that came to define the eighteenth-century French pastoral ideal, a genre which Boucher formulated. In the 1740s, soon after his return from Italy and inspired by literary examples, the artist sought to visually transcribe the tales of rustic love that found such success in the poetry and theatre of the day. He took up these light-hearted pleasing subjects again towards the end of his career, in the 1760s, adding more veracity to his depictions of shepherds, now deprived of their previous operatic silk dress and extravagant ribbons which made them quite unfit for their rural tasks. Yet, far from presenting a realistic vision of peasant struggles, the artist retained a high degree of idealisation, as rightly noted by Bret in his Necrology of the artist: Boucher only painted 'nature embellished by imagination' and he wished 'to transform the history of our countryside into an ingenious novel... [His] shepherdesses have more the air of nymphs than women destined to guard herds of animals... it was always as a poet of taste that he painted the countryside'.

This picture has often been considered a study for the large, but rather poorly painted, version of the subject in the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, signed and dated 1768. The Kenwood picture is the pendant to another pastoral subject, L'Offrande du raisin, also in Kenwood House and dated in the same year. However, the latter picture is so different in facture and so much higher in quality that it has led Alastair Laing to consider the Kenwood Cueillette des Cerises as a work executed by studio assistants (see A. Laing, in the catalogue of the exhibition, François Boucher, 1986, p. 306).

Besides the obvious differences in quality and execution, the Kenwood painting displays a number of variations from the present supposed sketch: it has only two figures set in a much wider landscape; where a pack-mule and goat appear in the sketch, they have been replaced by terracotta pots in the Kenwood decoration, while the exquisite seated girl - perhaps the loveliest invention in the sketch - has been eliminated altogether. Although the present painting obviously inspired the Kenwood composition, the significant variations between them would be unusual if the one had been intended as a model for the other.

This painting did serve, however, as the model for a gouache by Boucher's son-in-law and former pupil, Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, a successful gouache miniature painter. The copy, which followed Boucher's invention with only minor variations, was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1765 with a pendant depicting Annette et Lubin, another popular literary pastoral recounting the innocent love story of two orphaned cousins (the pair is now in a private collection, Quebec; see Ananoff, 1976, op. cit., nos. 605-6 for an illustration). Baudouin's pair of gouaches were engraved by Nicolas Ponce, thus grandly contributing to the diffusion of Boucher's original concetto. Although there is a discrepancy in the recorded dimensions, it is possible that the present painting belonged to Baudouin and figured in the sale of his effects on 15 February 1770. As such, and as Laing notes, it is possible that an ancillary aim for Boucher in making the sketch would have been to supply his son-in-law with a model for his own work. In any event, the appearance of Baudouin's picture in the Salon of 1765 establishes a terminus ante quem for the present painting, and confirms that it was made at least three years before the Kenwood picture.

The cheerful, youthful and flirtatious rural life that Boucher stages in this picture would have echoed the arcadian fantasies of the sophisticated urban Parisian elite of the day. Overloaded with social conventions and materialistic concerns its members longed to go back to the simple, informal pleasures of the natural world. This yearning for the vie champêtre was perhaps best exemplified a few decades later by Queen Marie-Antoinette, who frequently went to play shepherdess with her close circle of friends in a fantasy farm she had set up near Versailles. These idyllic recreations also captured the imagination of another great figure of the day, the writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Georges Brunel (op. cit.) recognized an unexpected association - at least indirectly, by way of Ponce's print - between the Cueillette des Cerises and a passage in Rousseau's autobiography, The Confessions. Though the first volume of his book did not appear until 1782, Rousseau began writing his memoirs in 1765 and he might well have been thinking of Ponce's popular engraving when he recounted an anecdote concerning cherry-picking in Book Four. In it, he tells of wandering along a country road when he was eighteen, and coming upon two girls who were having difficulties crossing a stream. After assisting them, he was invited by one of the girls to join them for lunch at her house. After the meal, the three decided to pick fruit from the garden. 'I climbed the tree,' Rousseau wrote, 'and tossed down bunches of cherries, from which [the girls] returned pips through the branches. The sight of Mlle. Galley with her apron spread out and her head thrust back was very pleasant; I aimed perfectly so that a cluster fell on her breast; how we laughed!'

Yet Boucher's vision of bucolic dalliance was slightly more risqué than Rousseau's - the meaning of the gesture made by the mischievous shepherd in the tree is so obvious as to require no explanation. The erotic charge of such works, along with their idealisation of countrylife was deemed corruptive and false by the influential art critic and enlightened encyclopedist Denis Diderot who complained in his 1761 review of the Salon: 'That man has everything but truth!'. Yet even the righteous Diderot could not help but recognise the magnetic appeal of Boucher's pastorals: 'One cannot leave the picture. It fixes you. One comes back to it. It is such an agreeable vice, an extravagance so inimitable and so rare! There is so much imagination, of effect, of magic and of facility!'

Key to this enduring power of attraction, the seductive spontaneity of the young protagonists is mirrored by the daring freedom of handling adopted by the aging painter. Far from the polished aspect of his pastoral from the 1740s, Boucher carves directly into colour, using thick impasto and a calligraphic touch. Challenging the traditional categories of preparatory oil sketch and finished painting, he creates a dynamic and fresh image that would have appealed to discerning amateurs, eager to own an example of the artist's improvisational, loosely painted works. In that sense, La Cueillette des Cerises epitomizes Boucher's exuberant aesthetic of pleasure.

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