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

Vénus et les Amours

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
Vénus et les Amours
signed and dated 'f. Boucher / 1767' (lower center, on the rock)
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (60.8 x 50.6 cm.)
M. de Bourgongne de Menneville, Paris.
Comte de Caten-Sacken, Russian Ambassador to Berlin.
George Harland Peck, Esq., London, by 1902.
Joseph Bardac, Paris.
with Wildenstein & Co., Paris and New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Cole, Harrison, New York.
with Wildenstein & Co., London, from whom acquired by the present owner on 21 May 1987.
E. and J. de Goncourt, L'art du dix-huitième siècle, I, Paris, 1880, p. 191.
A. Michel, Boucher, Paris, 1906, pp. 47, note 1.
H. Macfall, 'Boucher: The Man, His Times, His Art, and His Significance', The Connoisseur, 1908, p. 141, illustrated.
New York Times, 17 March 1929.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne and Paris, 1976, II, pp. 275-276, no. 646, fig. 1692.
P. Jean-Richard, L'Œuvre gravé de François Boucher dans la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, 1978, p. 264, under no. 1046.
A. Ananoff, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, pp. 139-140, no. 684, fig. 684.
London, Guildhall Art Gallery, A Selection of Works by French and English Painters of the Eighteenth Century, 22 April-26 July 1902, no. 104.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., March-April 1929, no. 4.
Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, Trends in Painting, 1600-1800, 2 October-3 November 1957.
New York, Wildenstein, François Boucher: A Loan Exhibition For the Benefit of The New York Botanical Garden, 12 November-19 December 1980, no. 34.
Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum, François Boucher (1703-1770), 3 July-22 August 1982, no. 65.

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Lot Essay

This charming mythological subject is one of the best documented cabinet paintings from the final years of François Boucher’s career. In a beautifully preserved work, deftly executed in thick strokes of creamy brushwork, Venus, the goddess of Love, emerges from a placid woodland pool, drying the water from her voluptuous body. Kneeling on pillowing drapery of pink silk beneath a sheltering tree, the blonde goddess outstretches her hand toward a basket of flowers that have been gathered for her by the winged putti at her side, who hold the flaming torch and golden arrow that signal her identity. A pair of snow-white doves fly beside her, almost appearing to kiss one another in mid-air.
The painting is signed and dated 1767. In the 1760s, Boucher came to employ a broader technique which helped compensate for his failing eyesight. Although less spirited in handling than his youthful works, his late masterpieces display an acuity and inventiveness undiminished by age and unmatched by the works of any of his contemporaries. In the present work, the delicate, roseate and golden tones of the palette; the dexterous versatility of touch in the various textures of flesh, fabric and bloom; and the lively balance of innocence and sensuality which avoids any hint of vulgarity, distinguish it as one of the master’s finest late works.
In December 1775, five years after Boucher’s death, an engraving of the painting by René Gaillard was announced in the Mercure de France under the title Vénus et les Amours (“Venus and Cupids” (fig. 2)), paired with an engraving of its pendant, Le Messager discret (“The Discreet Messenger”). A dedication on the engravings identifies the painter and printmaker, as well as the owner of Boucher’s original canvases, a ‘Monsieur de Bourgongne de Menneville, Chevalier de l’Ordre Royal et Militaire de St. Louis, Lieutenant-Colonel de Cavalerie’, about whom nothing else is known. The present painting and its former pendant remained together until 1981, when Le Messager discret was acquired from Wildenstein, New York, by the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig (fig. 1); Vénus et les Amours was purchased from the same gallery by Paul Desmarais in May 1987.
The Braunschweig painting depicts a pretty young shepherdess sitting under a tree as she reads a love letter. This contemporary pastoral subject would have provided a somewhat unexpected companion for a rendering of Venus and her amorini; however, the unconventional pairing permitted Boucher to explore the underlying associations between his two favored artistic genres: erotic mythology and the gallant pastorale. In his final decade, Boucher worked in the two genres almost to the exclusion of every other, alternating between increasingly suave variations on rustic scenes of the loves of shepherds and shepherdesses, and graceful depictions of the female nude founded in the sensual tales of the ancient poets, Ovid and Anacreon. In the present painting, the goddess of fertility is at the center of a verdant landscape which seems to emanate from her own fecundity. Boucher tellingly recasts the same elements in his modern-dress companion piece: indeed, his shepherdess seems herself a contemporary Venus, only in more chaste attire, seated as she is in a nearly identical landscape, surrounded by an abundance of blossoms and a single dove that attends closely to her reading of the letter from her absent lover; even the cupids reappear, now in the form of a sculpted garden relief. By pairing Vénus et les Amours with its former pendant, Boucher could suggest more clearly than ever before – and with considerable poetic effect – that the eternal forces of love and passion create a continuous thread throughout human history, from the ancient to the modern world.

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