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

L'Amour moissonneur

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
L'Amour moissonneur
signed 'f boucher -' (lower centre)
oil on canvas
36¼ x 38½ in. (92.1 x 97.8 cm.)
Possibly marquis de Cypierre's sale; Paris, 10 March ff., 1845, lot 89 (as by Natoire, but the description corresponds to this composition, not to the engraved one by Natoire), 'La Moisson. Quatre figures d'Amours. Un des Amours est couché sur une gerbe, un autre le chatouille avec une paille. Un troisième tient une serpe.' (sold for 405 francs).
Alfred de Rothschild, Seamon Place, London, and by descent to Almina, Countess of Carnarvon; Christie's, London, 22 May 1925, lot 59, to Sabin.
with Frank Sabin, London.
Contini-Bonacossi collection, Florence, 1953.
Acquired by the present owner in the 1970s.
H. Voss, 'François Boucher's early development', Burlington Magazine, 95, March 1953, p. 89, fig. 56.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne, 1976, I, pp. 197-8, no. 63, fig. 296.
P. Jean-Richard, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins... Ecole Française, I, L'Oeuvre grave de François Boucher dans la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, 1978, under no. 1378, p. 331. A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'Opera Completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, p. 90, no. 63, illustrated.
M. Roland Michel, Oeuvre de Jeunesse de Watteau à Ingres, Paris [Galerie Cailleux], 1985, under no. 3.
A. Laing, in the exhibition catalogue, François Boucher, 1703-1770, New York, Detroit, Paris, 1986-7, under no. 15, p. 128.
R. Temperini, French Painting of the Ancien Régime, Houston, 1996, p. 183.
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Lot Essay

Throughout his career, but notably in the early 1730s after his return to Paris from his extended study in Italy, Boucher made small allegorical canvases depicting putti or cupids at play. Such paintings find their origins in the Renaissance in the works of masters such as Titian (The Venus Worship in the Prado, Madrid) and Parmigianino, which themselves referred consciously to similar sculpted bas-reliefs from Roman antiquity. In the seventeenth century, Poussin revived the genre and Claude Gillot, Antoine Watteau and François Lemoyne (Boucher's teacher) carried it to Paris in the early eighteenth century.

The present canvas dates from the early 1730s, almost certainly shortly after his return from Italy. It is an autograph version - possibly reduced at top - of one of a set of four putti paintings made for his first important Parisian patron, the obscure lawyer François Derbais (that picture is now in the Collection of The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; cf. R. Temperini, op. cit., pp. 183-5). Boucher had painted his first large-scale masterpieces in the early 1730s for the billiard room in Derbais's townhouse on the rue Poissonnière: a suite of mythological compositions including the Rape of Europa and Mercury confiding the Infant Bacchus to the Nymphs of Nyssa (now in the Wallace Collection, London), Venus requesting Arms for Aeneas (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and Aurora and Cephalus (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy), and the Birth of Venus (Romanian Embassy, Paris). Around the same time or immediately thereafter, he made four decorations of frolicking putti representing the Seasons for Derbais's staircase: L'Amour Oiseleur (private collection), L'Amour Nageur (an autograph version, perhaps the original, is in the James de Rothschild collection, Waddesdon Manor), L'Amour Vendangeur (sold Christie's, New York, 6 April 2006, lot 331), and L'Amour Moissonneur (in the Blaffer Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). All four were engraved and identified as belonging to Derbais.

Despite Boucher's characteristic fascination with the appearance and movements of actual babies (which he carefully studied his whole life), the subject of L'Amour Moissonneur ('Love the Harvester') is evocative of bacchanalian imagery from ancient art and poetry. This charming, vigorously painted and delicately coloured picture associates Love (in the guise of a Cupid who has collapsed on a haystack, exhausted from his labors) with the annual grain harvest, and would therefore have served to represent Summer in the set of the seasonal allegories. The present painting is signed by Boucher and relates to Bernard Lepicie's engraving of Derbais's L'Amour Moissonneur, which the printmaker presented to the Academy in June 1734 as part of his morceaux de réception (and which was announced in the Mercure in October of that year).

We are grateful to Alastair Laing for his help in the cataloguing of this lot.

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