Delicately rendered with black and white chalk, this sensually reclining woman exemplifies Boucher mastery at depicting the female nude. The artist achieved the pearl-like shimmer of the woman’s skin by building up layers of white chalk on top of the cream-colored paper, and enhancing it with a light blue background. The figure relates to the painting Nymph playing a flute with putti, signed and dated 1752 (Fig. 1; Ananoff and Wildenstein, op. cit., no. 389, ill.; sold Christie's, London, 7 July 2005, lot 34), where she appears with her back half covered by drapery. Probably based on the Alsdorf drawing is the studio replica of the same picture in the Wallace Collection, where, just as in the drawing, the muse sits on the drapery rather than being covered by it (inv. P481; J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, London, 1989, III, no. P481, ill.).
Ingamells wanted to identify the figure with Euterpe, muse of music and lyrical poetry (who is also said to have invented the flute), while Alistair Laing suggested that she might be Thalia, muse of comedy and pastoral poetry, who is sometimes portrayed with musical instruments. The placement of the figure at the center of the sheet and the care given to execution, could indicate that this drawing was made by Boucher as an independent work of art , as argued by Alistair Laing, whom we thank for his assistance and for confirming the attribution to Boucher.
Fig. 1. François Boucher, A reclining nymph playing a flute with putti (possibly the Muse Euterpe), 1752, Private collection.