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

Venus and Cupid

François Boucher (Paris 1703-1770)
Venus and Cupid
signed '•f• Boucher .' (lower right)
oil on canvas, shaped
36¾ x 64 in. (93.4 x 162.5 cm.)
in a Louis XV carved and gilded frame
Eudoxe Marcille (1814-1890), Paris.
M. and Mme. Chevrier-Marcille, Paris, 1937, and by descent until 1978, where acquired by a private collector, London, until,
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 7 July 1989, lot 80.
with Matthiesen, New York and London.
Private collection, Indiana, until 2003.
Anonymous sale [Property sold to benefit a Midwestern Private Trust]; Christie's, New York, 24 January 2003, lot 104.
E. and J. de Goncourt, L'Art du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1880, I, pp. 156-57, as 'Et ne restrait-il de Boucher que cette ravissante Vénus couchée de la collection Marcille, il serait impossible de méconnaître en ce magicien, un grand tempérament de peintre, et de refuser au coloriste cette justice que David lui-même rendait en disant "N'est pas Boucher qui veut"'.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1886, p. 55, footnote.
A. Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906, p. 47, under cat. no. 300.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne, 1976, I, p. 366, no. 250, fig. 751.
A. Ananoff and David Wildenstein, L'opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, no. 257, illustrated.
Chef d'Oeuvres de l'Art des Femmes, Paris, 1991.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais des Tuileries, Pavillon de Flore, Tableaux anciens et modernes exposés au profit du Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 1878, no. 19.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Tableaux ancienes de décoration et d'ornement, July, 1880.
Paris, Tableaux de Maîtres anciens au profit des inondés du Midi, March 1887, no. 8.
Paris, Palais National des Arts, Chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art français, 1937, no. 134.

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Lot Essay

The extraordinary career of François Boucher was unmatched by his contemporaries in its versatility, consistency and scale of production. His facility with the brush, even when betraying occasional superficiality, enabled him to master every aspect of painting -- history and mythology, portraiture, landscape, scenes of everyday life, and even (as parts of his larger compositions) still life. Through his training with François Le Moyne he mastered the art of composition, while the four years he spent in Italy, from 1727-1731, gave him the education in history and the classics that his modest upbringing had failed to provide.

Enormously successful and widely patronised, Boucher worked prodigiously. First employed by the Crown in the 1730s, he executed numerous royal and princely commissions until his death in 1770, working particularly well in the 1750s for Louis XV's mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, in each of her several palaces. Always ready to utilise his talents even far afield, he designed tapestries, stage sets, and figures for the Vincennes (later Sèvres) porcelain factory, in addition to painting and drawing. Not since Charles Le Brun had a single artist so influenced the visual arts of his day.

Venus and Cupid has generally been dated to the early 1740s (Alastair Laing, verbal communication; Ananoff, op.cit.). Nothing is known of the origins of the painting, its first owner or original location, but it's oval format would certainly suggest that it had been set in a boiserie frame as an overdoor decoration or as part of a larger decorative ensemble. A loosely sketched drawing in black and red chalks in the Musée des Arts Décoratif, Paris (see Ananoff, op. cit., fig. 752, no. 250/2), seems to be a preliminary study for the composition, and shows its irregularly shaped format. The ambitious scale and high quality of the painting indicate that it formed part of an important and well-paid decorative commission, comparable in style and handling with other mythological decorations of the same period, including Venus Disarming Cupid and Cupid Caressing his Mother (private collection; ibid, nos. 241 and 242), said to have been painted for the Château de Choisy in 1743, and the magnificent pair of ovals depicting The Birth of Venus and The Toilet of Venus, each signed and dated 1743 (in a private collection, New York; ibid, nos. 243 and 245).

In Venus and Cupid, the goddess of Love -- floating in an Olympian aerie above the distant world of human concerns far below -- is seen teasing her son with the pink ribbon of the nightdress that she has just undone. Boucher creates a fantasy of languorous sensuality in which cooing doves, billowing clouds and the yards of crushed velvet and striped satin that adorn the airborne boudoir are as sensuously charged as the voluptuous figure of Venus herself. As Jules and Edmond de Goncourt observed when they saw the painting in the famous collection of Eudoxe Marcille in the 1870s, 'it would be impossible not to recognize in this magician his extraordinary energy as a painter, nor refuse him [Jacques-Louis] David's tribute that, as a colourist, "it is only Boucher that one wants" '.

The present painting has an illustrious provenance, having been in the celebrated Marcille collection in Paris for more than a century. Praised principally for the dozens of paintings by Chardin (more than thirty) that were acquired in the early years of the 19th century by François-Martial Marcille (1790-1856), a painter and collector from Orléans, the collection remains to this day among the greatest in France. After the elder Marcille died, a part of his collection was sold in two important auctions, and the portion inherited by the younger of his two sons, Camille (1816-1875) was subsequently dispersed in 1876. However, the part of François-Martial’s collection that was bequeathed to his eldest son, Eudoxe Marcille (1814-1890), was further augmented by that dedicated collector over many years and has remained largely intact, having passed to Eudoxe’s descendants. The present painting seems likely to have been acquired by Eudoxe himself, rather than inherited from his father. Eudoxe Marcille was a painter of talent and, from 1870, the Director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Orléans. He held a prominent Monday salon in his opulent Paris townhouse at 54, rue d’Hauteville, surrounded by his unexcelled collection of masterpieces by Chardin, Boucher and Fragonard; his guests regularly included the most prominent figures in the popular revival of the dix-huitieme siècle, notably the Goncourt brothers and the collector Louis La Caze, as well as prominent contemporary artists such as Edgar Degas.

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