BOUCHER, affirms Nécrologe of 1771, “possessed to a greater degree all the great parts of the art of painting, and could have tried and distinguished himself in all genres; but, borned sensitive, lovable, and voluptuous, he was almost always carried away to the Graces, of which he was generally appealed the painter.” Sensible, amiable, and voluptuous: in these three terms is summed up the physiognomy of the eighteenth century, with its spiritual elegance and his refined slavery; in these three words also encloses all the art of Boucher, painter of gallant festivals and graceful mythologies. His personal conceptions adapted marvelously to the taste of the time. He was to succeed in a brilliant and libertine court, of which Madame de Pompadour was the queen; he soon became the official painter. As a good courtier as well as a skilful artist, he employed the best of his talent in celebrating Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, a delicate homage to the royal favorite, her protector, supreme sovereign in the sumptuous Olympus of Versailles. By natural taste, he likes to play light on the pink and pearly flesh of women; his entire work is a permanent hymn to youth, beauty and love.
Among these allegorical paintings, the one we give here is one of the most beautiful. To the right of the picture, Vulcan, seated on a tiger’s skin, tends to the goddess the weapons he has just forged. Carried on a cloud and leaning on one of her nymphs, half-naked Venus examines them negligently. His nonchalantly stretched body is a marvel of easy grace and indolent beauty. In the foreground, one sees the chariot of the divinity, harnessed with doves. On the front of the canvas, a Love braids garlands of roses. In the sky bathed in a diaphanous light, other Loves continue playing.
If he obtained the unanimous votes of his contemporaries, Boucher’s art experienced the rigors of posterity. From the exaggerated enthusiasm to absolute contempt, without transition. He was reproached with the softness of his drawing, the incorrectness of his anatomies, the conventional of his painting. In spite of the truth contained in these criticisms, we must admit that we are very wrong placed today to judge Boucher, who was especially, and above all, a decorator. To establish a fair judgment, one should see his works in the frame for which they had been painted, carved panels with garlands, worked and precious trils, gilded tympans and festooned with arabesques; all their aesthetic significance and all their harmony are at once found. Stripped of this necessary support, the paintings of Boucher resembled diamonds that would have been loosened from their alveolus of goldsmithery.
“His work is prodigious in its lightness, prodigious by the fecundity of the effort it represents, and prodigious also by the ease of expression which is discovered there, and, it must be said, Who persist in penetrating the mystery of nature only in those whose faculty of observation stops at the surface of things. And such was the incredible facility, which formed the basis of the talent of Boucher, who treated with the same assurance, if not with the same happiness, all the subjects, from the subjects of sanctity to the most undressed grivoiseries, caressing with equal ease of brush the sails of the Virgin in his paintings of Nativity, and the pearly splendours of Miss Murphy voluptuously lying amid the draped draperies of the alcove.” (Armand Dayot.)
What we can not dispute to Boucher without injustice is the harmonious beauty of his composition, the incomparable fluidity of his color, the clarity of his atmospheres, and above all his perfect elegance, a little mannered but exquisite, where the spirit and taste of the Regency and of the reign of Louis XV are materialized, somehow, in our eyes.
David knew it well, he who had worked more than any other to react against this art. One day when he heard some of his pupils mocking the painter of the Bergeries and the Boudoirs, he went up to them, very angry, and shouted to them: “Boucher is not willing!”
We may believe David; he was a good judge. Boucher remained inimitable in a genre he created and of which no painter after him could find the secret. His pupils endeavored to continue it, and did not succeed. Under their pencil the skill of the master became a process, his grace an affection, his gallant turn of insipidity.
We have now recovered from the injustice which Boucher’s art has long suffered. Without classifying him to the rank of the great masters, he is acknowledged as a delicate and charming painter, sometimes incorrect but never banal, whose works are always looked at with pleasure and interest, because they are elegant, spiritual, brilliant as the society of which they reflect tastes, qualities and defects.
Vulcan presenting arms to Venus for Aeneas was exposed at the Salon of 1757. He obtained a great success. It was acquired by King Louis XV to be reproduced in tapestry by the royal manufacture of the Gobelins. Later, he moved from the Garde-Meuble to the Musée du Louvre, which he never left. It can now be seen in the 18th century hall.
Louvre Museum, 18th century room
Height: 3.20.-Width: 3.20.-Natural size figure.
Translation by Nicolae Sfetcu