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signed and dated 'f. Boucher 1760' (lower left)
oil on canvas, oval
25 3/8 x 20 7/8 in. (64.5 x 53 cm.)
in a French Régence carved giltwood frame
Given personally by the artist to Adrien Rolland (according to label on the reverse).
Jenny Marois (according to label on the reverse).
Charles Pillet, Paris.
with Frank T. Sabin, London, by 1936.
L. Soullié and C. Masson, 'Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de François Boucher', in A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906, p. 87, no. 1555 (cited as in the collection of Charles Pillet).
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Paris, 1976, II p. 304-6, no. 679, fig. 1772.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, p. 142, no. 717.
T. Burollet, Musée Cognacq-Jay: Peintures et Dessins, Paris, 1980, p. 125, under no. 57.
Palais du Corps Législatif, Alsaces-Lorrains supplement, 1874, no. 723.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Dessins de décoration et d'ornament, July 1880.
Paris, 1874, no. 723.
Paris, 1880.
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Tentoonstellung van oude Kunst, 1936, no. 15, illustrated.
London, Frank T. Sabin, French and Venetian XVIII Century Paintings, 1937, no. 8.
London, Frank T. Sabin, Park House, Rutland Gate, Two Great Masterpieces, June 1951, no. 1.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, and Munich, Alte Pinakothek, Französische Malerei von Poussin bis Ingres, Milan, 1980, p. 142, no. 717.
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Lot Essay

Little is known of the early history of this charming pastoral subject, painted by Boucher in 1760 (Ananoff, op. cit., mistakenly dates the picture to 1769 and records that it was given as a gift by the artist to a collector named Adrien Rolland). However, in July 1777, the Mercure de France noted that Cozette père and fils of the Gobelins tapestry manufactory presented several tapestries to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, among which were two small weavings 'l'un représentant la petite Laitière, d'après Boucher; & l'autre, le petit Boudeur, de Greuze' ('one representing the little Milkmaid after Boucher, the other the little Sulking Boy of Greuze'). The tapestry, which was first woven by Cozette in 1773, would have been made, not from the present, original, painting, but from a cartoon made by an assistant in Boucher's workshop replicating it. It was probably this cartoon that was sold at Christie's Monaco, 19 June 1994, lot 151 (rectangular in format and measuring 65.5 x 55 cm.; see Ananoff 679/3 under 'Analogies'). Boucher's preparatory drawing for the Champalimaud painting appeared in his estate sale on 18 February 1771, lot 372 ('Une paysanne tenant son pot de lait sur la tête et un panier à la main, dans un paysage dessiné à la Pierre noire, rehaussée de blanc sur papier bleu'; 'A peasant girl holding a pot of milk on her head and a basket of flowers in her hand, in a landscape drawn in black chalk reworked with white on blue paper'). A copy on panel of the painting, perhaps from Boucher's studio, was offered for sale several times, most recently at Christie's, London, 7 February 1991, lot 121. And the composition was influential throughout the large circle of painters that painted in Boucher's manner: Jean-Baptiste Huet's La Laitière (Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris), for example, which may have been exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1769, derives directly from Boucher's painting of that same year.

Ananoff identified the Champalimaud painting as a depiction of Pérette, and it seems probable that Boucher had the heroine of La Fontaine's famous 1678 fable, 'La laitière et le pot au lait' (Book 7, fable 10) in mind when he made it. La Fontaine tells the story of a young milkmaid, Pérette, who carries a large pot of milk on her head to market. On her way she envisions ever greater dreams of what she will buy and do with the money she has yet to make from the sale of the milk. So distracted is she by her fantasies of future prosperity that she trips and drops the pot, spilling the milk everywhere. She returns home empty handed and, indeed, crying over spilled milk, to face the wrath of her husband. La Fontaine concludes his gentle warning against the dangers of daydreaming: 'Who builds not sometimes in the air his cots, or seats, or castles fair? From kings to dairy women - all - the wise the foolish, great and small - each thinks his waking dream the best. Some flattering error fills the breast... [Until] some accident calls me back and I'm no more than simple Jack.' Fragonard's contemporaneous depiction of Pérette toppling to the ground, hot milk pouring over the ground in an enveloping cloud of steam is perhaps the most famous illustration of La Fontaine's fable (c. 1770; Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris). Boucher's approach to the story is more decorous, but his heroine's look of distracted reverie, and the large stones that are just one footfall in front of her, leave little doubt that she will share the same fate.

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


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