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

Le Soir or La Dame allant au Bal

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
Le Soir or La Dame allant au Bal
signed and dated ‘f. Boucher / 1734’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 23 ¼ in. (73.5 x 59 cm.)
H.A.J. Munro of Novar; his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 18 May 1867, lot 188 (unsold at 135 gns); his sale (†), 1 June 1878, lot 16 (110 gns. to Agnew’s).
Lionel Lawson [literature often cites J. Posno, erroneous reading of same Christie’s sale]; his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 14 February 1880, lot 106 (150 gns. to the Smith Brothers).
Dr. G. P[iogey]; his sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 3-5 May 1898, lot 9 (155 francs).
John White, Ardarroch; his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 28 March 1903, lot 52 (36 gns. to McLean).
Otto Beit, and by inheritance to his daughter, Mrs. Arthur Bull, Tewin Waters, Welwyn, Hertsfordshire; (†) Christie’s, London, 25 October 1946, lot 10 (1,100 gns. to Bier).
with Koetser, London, by 1948.
with Wildenstein, New York and London, until at least 1982.
E. de Goncourt and J. de Goncourt, L’Art du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1880, I, pp. 174 and 198.
P. Mantz, François Boucher, Lemoyne et Natoire, Paris, 1880, pp. 73 and 97.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1889, p. 57.
G. Kahn, Boucher, Paris, 1904, p. 60.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906, no. 1219.
P. de Nolhac, François Boucher, premier peintre du roi, Paris, 1907, p. 40.
H. Macfall, ‘Boucher, the man, his times, his art and his significance 1703-1770’, The Connoisseur, special, 1908, p. 155.
A. Ananoff, ‘Francois Boucher et l’Amerique’, L’oeil, June 1976, p. 23, illustrated.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, François Boucher, Lausanne and Paris, 1976, I, pp. 241-43, no. 114, and under nos. 111, 112, and 114, fig. 432.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L’opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, no. 114.
A. Laing, François Boucher 1703-1770, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; Reunion des Musees Nationaux, Grand Palais, Paris; 1986, p. 17, under ‘1734’, pp. 62 and 169.
New York, Wildenstein, French Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, 21 January-21 February 1948, no. 3.
New York, Wildenstein, French XVIIIth Century Paintings, 1948, no. 4.
New York, Wildenstein, The Woman in French Painting, XVIth to XXth Century, 1950, no. 17.
Louisville, Kentucky, J.B. Speed Art Museum, Woman in French Paintings, December 1950.
Sao Paolo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paolo, O Retrato na França, January 1952, no. 16.
New York, Wildenstein, French Eighteenth Century Painters, 16 November-11 December 1954, no. 1.
Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, De Watteau à Prud’hon, 1956, no. 12.
Jacksonville, Florida, Cummer Gallery of Art, Masterpieces of French Painting, 10 November-31 December, 1961.
New York, Finch College Museum of Art, French Masters of the Eighteenth Century, 27 February-7 April 1963, no. 20.

Lot Essay

Boucher’s seductive image of a coquettish young blonde about to don a mask in preparation for a ball is the only surviving painting from a set of four bustlength depictions of fashionable young women representing the Four Times of the Day. His soignée party-goer, who is about to depart for an evening of dancing and flirtation, provides an appropriate emblem for Le Soir. Boucher made the series in the mid-1730s for an unknown patron.

Contemporary engravings by Gilles-Edmé Petit reproduce the present painting in reverse (fig. 1; Ananoff and Wildenstein, op. cit., no. 113/1), as well as two of the other three paintings in the series: Le Matin (‘Morning’; fig. 2; ibid., no. 111) and Le Midi (‘Midday’; fig. 3; ibid., no. 112). The prints identify Petit as the printmaker, Boucher as the painter whose original works are the source of the images, and the subject of each, but they do not indicate the patron for the series. André Michel (op. cit., p. 169) records an engraving by Petit of the third work in the series, L’Après-Dîner (‘Evening’; ibid., no. 114), but this was not, in fact, after a picture by Boucher. It was, instead, a portrait of the dancer, Mlle. Sallé, that Petit adapted from his earlier engraving of a portrait of her painted by Fenoüil, to make it conform to the format of the others of the set. As we know from the engravings, Le Matin depicted a young woman in a powdering mantle at her morning toilette, about to apply a beauty spot, and Le Midi portrayed a chic young woman sheltering beneath a parasol at high noon, awaiting the arrival of a suitor. Apart from Le Soir, the other paintings in the series have been lost since the eighteenth century, although a version of Le Matin dating from approximately the same time – somewhat larger, in an oval format and with significant variations – belonged to Count Carl Gustav Tessin (private collection; see Laing, op. cit., p. 62, fig. 43).

Serial depictions of the Four Times of the Day, usually presented in mythological guise, appeared often in the visual arts dating back to the Middle Ages, and by the late seventeenth century, contemporary genre representations of the theme, usually in the form of popular print cycles, were commonplace. Invariably, these followed a well-established pattern: ‘Morning’ is a toilette scene; ‘Midday’ a luncheon or garden scene with a sundial; ‘Evening’ is a domestic activity (such as sewing); ‘Night’ depicts card-playing or readying for a ball. Boucher broke with convention both in the medium and the format he chose, that of single-figure, painted personifications presented bust-length. More than a decade later, when he undertook a set of paintings of the Four Times of the Day in 1746 for Crown Princess Luisa Ulrike of Sweden, Boucher still followed the well-trod emblematic traditions – ‘Morning’ was to be a toilette scene, ‘Night’ would depict ‘giddy women about to depart for a masked ball’, etc. – but he now presented them in the form of multi-figural compositions that drew on both the tradition of costume prints dating back to the seventeenth century and recent genre paintings by contemporaries, notably ‘tableaux de mode’ such as Before the Ball (1735; Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum) by Jean-François de Troy and a set of small coppers in which the Four Times of the Day are embodied by fashionable Parisians engaged in daily domestic rituals (1739; London, National Gallery) by Nicolas Lancret. In the end, Boucher reneged on the commission, producing only ‘Morning’ (also known as The Milliner) for the Swedish monarch (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum; Ananoff and Wildenstein, no. 297; a replica London, Wallace Collection).

The year in which Le Soir was painted, 1734, was an especially significant and productive one for Boucher. Not only was he received at the Academie Royale on the presentation of Rinaldo and Armida (Paris, Musée du Louvre; Ananoff and Wildenstein, op. cit., no. 108) in January, but it was almost certainly the year he executed several of his earliest masterpieces, including The Rape of Europa and Mercury Confiding the Infant Bacchus to the Nymphs of Nysa (both London, Wallace Collection; ibid., nos. 104 and 106); two large mythologies painted for Boucher’s first great patron, the lawyer François Derbais; and Boy and Girl Blowing Bubbles (Private collection; Ananoff and Wildenstein, no. 96), a rustic genre subject with half-length figures on a scale comparable with Le Soir. In fact, the broad and free brushwork that is so evident in the draperies of the girl and boy blowing bubbles in that famous picture is identical to the vigorous, energetic handling that animates the young woman eagerly anticipating the excitement of a masked ball in Le Soir.

We are grateful to Alastair Laing for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

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