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

The Muse Erato

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770) and studio
The Muse Erato
oil on canvas
36 ¾ x 51 7/8 in. (93.4 x 131.7 cm.)
(Possibly) Madame La Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764); her sale (†), Pierre Remy, Paris, 28 April 1766, lot 18, as 'The Muse Terpsichore', with its pendant 'The Muse Polymnia'.
(Possibly) Louis-René, Marchal de Sainscy; his sale (†), M. Desmarest, Paris, 29 April 1789, lot 22, with a second muse.
(Possibly) Jean-Claude-François Perrin, marquis de Cypierre (1783-1844); his sale (†), M. Bonnefons-Delavialle, Paris, 10 March 1845, lot 14.
Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870), Paris, and by descent to,
Sir Richard Wallace, 1st Baronet (1818-1890), Paris, and by inheritance to,
Lady Wallace (1819-1897), and by inheritance to,
Sir John Murray Scott (1847-1912), and by inheritance to,
Victoria Sackville-West, Lady Sackville (1862-1936).
with Jacques Seligman, Paris, 1914.
with Knoedler, Paris & New York, no. 13513, from whom purchased in 1922 by the following,
Count John McCormack (1884-1945).
Mr W.R. Timken, New York, acquired in 1924, from whom acquired in 1929 by the following,
René Gimpel (1881-1945); (†) Sotheby's, London, 20 June 1951, lot 42, where acquired by the following,
M.J.B. Lester, London.
Count Aldo Crespi, Milan.
with Newhouse Galleries, New York, 1980.
Mr S.T. Fee, Oklahoma City, by whom sold anonymously; Christie's, New York, 9 May 1985, lot 14, as 'The Muse Terpsichore'.
with Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, by 1987.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 11 January 1991, lot 82, as 'François Boucher & Studio' ($330,000).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 29 January 2009, lot 67, as 'François Boucher' ($1,314,500), when acquired by the present owner.
E. & J. de Goncourt, L'art du dix-huitième siècle, 3rd edition, Paris, 1880, I, p. 190, as 'François Boucher'.
A. de Champeaux, 'La Muse Erato', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1890, pp. 513-14, as 'François Boucher', engraving illustrated.
E. Dilke, French Painters of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1899, p. 53, no. 5.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906, p. 21, no. 324, as 'François Boucher' ‘Venus à demi-couchée sur des nuages et tenant un tambourin’.
P. de Nolhac, Boucher, premier peintre du roi, Paris, 1925, pp. 154-155, as 'François Boucher'.
R. Cecil, 'The Remainder of the Hertford and Wallace Collections', The Burlington Magazine, XCII, January-December 1950, pp. 168-172, as 'François Boucher'.
Wallace Collection Catalogues: Pictures and Drawings, 16th edition, London, 1968, pp. 37-8 and 43, as 'François Boucher'.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, François Boucher, Lausanne-Paris, 1976, II, pp. 165-168, no. 488, as 'François Boucher' ‘La Muse Terpsichore’.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'opera completa di François Boucher, Milan, 1980, no. 515, as 'François Boucher' ‘La Musa Tersicore’.
Paris, Hôtel de Chimay, L'Art français sous Louis XIV et sous Louis XV, 1888, no. 2, as 'François Boucher' ‘Venus à demi-couchée sur des nuages et tenant un tambourin’.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Cent chef-d'oeuvres des écoles françaises et étrangères, 1892, no. 4, as 'François Boucher' ‘La Musique’.
London, Gimpel Fils, Five Centuries of French Painting, November 1946, no. 7.
Special notice

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Sale room notice
Please note the additional provenance information, exhibition history and literature for this lot:
Mr W.R. Timken, New York, acquired in 1924, from whom acquired in 1929 by the following,
René Gimpel (1881-1945); (†) Sotheby's, London, 20 June 1951, lot 42.
London, Gimpel Fils, Five Centuries of French Painting, November 1946, no. 7.
E. Dilke, French Painters of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1899, p. 53, no. 5.

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Lot Essay

Boucher, one of the most imaginative and fluent decorators of his time, was ideally suited to meet the constraints imposed by architects and interior designers in their decorative schemes. Early in his career, he had engraved Watteau’s arabesques; by the mid-1730’s he had worked beside Van Loo and Natoire in the Hôtel de Soubise. He designed sets for the opera and cartoons for the tapestry factory in Beauvais. By the time Madame de Pompadour engaged Boucher to decorate her residences in the early 1750’s, she could have seen enough important examples of Boucher’s decorative paintings to be certain that his ideal of elegant stylishness was in sympathy with her own.

The Muse Erato has traditionally been believed to have been painted for the Pompadour as an overdoor for one of her homes. The composition was engraved by Daullé as a pair with The Muse Clio (fig. 1; London, The Wallace Collection) in 1756, and the prints identified the original paintings as belonging to the Marquise (fig. 2). In Pompadour’s posthumous sale on 28 April 1766, lot 18 was listed as depictions of the Terpsichore (the Muse of Dance who, like Erato, the Muse of Love Poetry, carried a tambourine) and the Polyhymnia (the Muse of Eloquence and Heroic Hymns, who, like Clio, the muse of History and Song, carried a trumpet). Discussions of the present painting and that in the Wallace Collection have confused the engravings of Erato and Clio with the reference in the sales catalogue to Terpsichore and Polyhymnia, concluding that the prints and the catalogue refer to the same pair of paintings and implying that either the subjects were misidentified in the engravings, or that the compilers of the catalogue were unfamiliar with the engravings and therefore were unsure of their true subjects. Although either argument is possible, neither is plausible. It seems unlikely that Daullé, in paying tribute to the Marquise by engraving two of the paintings she commissioned, would have been so careless as to misidentify the subjects of his tribute; it seems almost as unlikely that the advisors who prepared such an important catalogue, only eight years after Daullé’s popular engravings were announced in the Mercure de France, would misidentify the subjects of the paintings they were trying to sell. The paintings called Terpsychore and Polymnie in the catalogue, though 'de forme contournée', and so also overdoors, were on a smaller scale ('figures entières de petite nature').

Therefore, we can conclude that there were at least two distinct pairs of Muses. It seems certain the Daullé was correct when he engraved the Marquise’s Muses and identified them as Erato and Clio. The latter is shown in her original guise as the Muse of Song, with a lyre, trumpet and cupid holding sheet music, none of which are traditional attributes of Polyhymnia. Although Terpsichore is occasionally represented with a tambourine, she is more often shown with a lyre and crowned with flowers, whereas Erato is almost always depicted with a tambourine and, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a putto at her feet. Clearly, the Muse in the present painting is intended as Erato and the Terpsichore sold from the Pompadour’s Collection in 1766 was a different painting altogether. Neither the present painting nor the Wallace Clio should continue to be misidentified as Terpsichore and Polyhymnia, respectively, as they have been in past literature (Ananoff, op.cit., 1976, and Texas, Fort Worth, op. cit.).

This Erato and the Wallace Collection Clio have long been viewed as pendants for two reasons. First, there are the Daullé paired engravings after them. Second, there exists a pair of autograph paintings after Erato and Clio, signed and dated 1758, but with variants (Cupid offers Erato a wreath, instead of flowers), and these were clearly painted as pendants (private collection). However, Alastair Laing contends that Daullé’s pair of engravings are not in fact copies after a pair of paintings, but rather two works isolated from a larger group depicting all nine muses, since: ‘muses don’t go in pairs but in nines’ (private correspondence). He continues ‘nine is an awkward number for paintings but Mme de Pompadour can be shown to have had no less. The grand cabinet of the hôtel de Pompadour (now the Elysée Palace) was nothing other than a ‘cabinet des Muses’: there were indeed nine of the ‘dans leurs cadres de bois doré’, but because they were fixtures, unlike most of the other paintings in the inventory…they were not valued and not intended for removal. The pair of Muses in her sale (Terpsichore and Polyhymnia) is not to be found in the inventory and must have been late-comers from elsewhere’.

An examination of the relationship between the two paintings and the engravings made after them lends support to Laing’s contention that Daullé did not engrave a true pair but works from a larger series. Daullé’s engraving of Clio is in reverse of the painting in the Wallace Collection (and its variant), whereas the Erato engraving is in the same direction as the present painting (and its variant). No doubt Daullé reversed one and not the other because he was pairing two paintings never intended to be regarded as pendants. Furthermore, it is not clear that the Erato and Wallace Collection Clio were ever hung as a pair, contrary to conventional thought. When sold in 1845 from the Cypierre Collection the pendant to the present picture (lot 15) was described as an ‘ancienne copie’ and as such was probably discarded along the way. The Wallace Clio pairs quite naturally with the Thalia/Euterpe also in the Wallace, whose dimensions are identical. This Erato on the other hand, was reduced in size and kept separately by the Wallaces; hence its having remained in Paris when the Clio, Thalia/Euterpe and the other works, which now form the Wallace Collection, were sent to London. In fact, Sir Richard Wallace lent it to a charitable exhibition in 1888, it was exhibited alone and described as ‘Venus à demi-couchée sur des nuages et tenant un tambourin’ – no longer recognised as a Muse and not hung with the Clio.

Laing believes that the nine original Muses painted for the Pompadour’s grand cabinet were not all necessarily by Boucher: the fact that Daullé also engraved a Urania after Jeaurat in 1756 suggests as much. He speculates that the original Muses are lost and, contrary to tradition, questions whether the present Muse belonged to the Marquise or is perhaps an autograph replica of the lost original, although this view remains speculative. Indeed, this Erato is the only known version of the composition by Boucher and alone corresponds in every significant detail to Daullé’s print. The date of the variant, 1758, disqualifies it as the engraved picture because Daullé’s engraving was announced in the Mercure de France in 1756. Although the Erato now bears neither signature nor date, it is clear from the print that it was cut-down on all sides to regularise its shape; thus, it is possible that the signature was lost as a result. Erato’s absence from the Pompadour’s estate inventory and posthumous sale is not itself conclusive. Her great portraits in Munich and its replica are not recorded in either of these documents, though she must have owned at least one of them, because, as a family portrait - if it was there - it did not need to be valued. Although the nine original overdoors from the Elysée Palace would have been regarded as fixtures and not valued or auctioned during her sale, they would, nevertheless, have been removed and sold. The first certain provenance of the Erato places it in the collection of Casimir de Cypierre, who also owned the Munich portrait of Madame de Pompadour. Cypierre was the first serious collector of works by Boucher after the French Revolution and the grandson of Jean-Claude-François Perrin de Cypierre who bought the Château d’Auvilliers from Madame de Pompadour in 1760. One cannot help wonder if the young Cypierre might not have inherited the Erato which his grandfather could have acquired directly from the Marquise or from her heirs following her death.

If the Erato was part of a large decorative scheme in which at least one other artist participated, then it is quite plausible that Boucher was aided in the project by assistants from his studio as Laing suggests – as would have been the normal practice for a large commission of this nature. Nevertheless, the handling of the Erato is fresh, the draperies crisp, her flesh pearly and glowing, and the broad but rich application of paint is commensurate with Boucher’s handling in other autograph overdoors of the period.

We are grateful to Alastair Laing for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.

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