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Louvre: Boucher – Pastoral Subject

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Boucher - Pastoral SubjectAt the foot of a tree with a dark green foliage, standing out in force on the azure sky, a shepherd and a shepherdess are seated. Shepherd and shepherdess with a fine face, with well-dressed clothes, peasants of convention as understood by the elegant and well-dressed eighteenth century, well made to please the society of that time, a court world that knew nothing of the countryside but the majestic shades of Versailles. The shepherd is seated on a mound of grass; one of his arms, passed around the young girl’s neck, leans on her shoulder; his right hand plays with a tame bird, whose cage is visible to the right of the picture. On his legs shod with blue is casually thrown the red jacket of which he undressed. She, close to him, with an elbow resting on her companion’s knee, braids a crown of foliage, but all her attention is directed towards the frolics of the birdlet and perhaps even more towards the pretty face of the friend tenderly leaning on her. What a lovely female figure, gracieuse, delicate, pink, and how beautifully framed by the double network of her blond tresses! Is it not rather an elegant marquise of the court who plays to amuse herself as a shepherdess? One would really believe to see his white hands finely attached to arms well turned and his feet small, perfect, purity of lines that betrays the race. And what a costume for a simple peasant! A tender-colored bodice, largely indented on the chest, and a skirt that one would swear to be in satin. Between them a basket full of roses seems to indicate that this charming couple has leisure and that the surveillance of the herd does not absorb them. Their sheep are particularly docile; they are seen, to the left of the canvas, very wisely lying in the grass, leaving to the young lovers every license to flirt.

What a charming freshness in this painting where everything is combined for the joy of the look, and what prodigious skill in this art of Boucher who plays with colors like a real magician! Nothing shocked, nothing shocking: the green, the blue, the red marry in a perfect harmony. And what a science of composition! All the interest of the scene concentrates well on the two young people, but leaves enough freedom to allow him to taste the beauty of the landscape and the fantasy of detail.

Boucher liked to paint the pastorals. In his work there are many subjects borrowed from rural life, or at least from this conventional life in the fields where the shepherdesses have crooked ribbons and baskets. A convention which does not deceive anyone, but which everyone willingly accepts because the life of that time is not conceived without elegance and that one finds hateful all that is not pretty and perfumed. And these sheepfolds, these pastoral counterfeits, the infatuation of the Court and the city, consecrate them, fashion is involved, and soon we shall see, on the lawns of Trianon, farms in miniature where duchesses and queens will come by play to play the peasant and barter the butter.

In reality, Boucher was only the translator of the state of mind of an epoch and, to judge him fairly, one must go back to that period, know its aspirations, tastes, see it with the eyes of those who lived there. Then all prevention disappears and one is in a position to admire without reticence his fanciful peasantry; then the prestigious talent of the artist appears in all its splendor.

The Pastorales of Boucher,” writes Théophile Gautier, “introduce you to the idyllic world invented by him for the use of the eighteenth century, the least rural of all ages, despite its bocageous pretensions. The sheep are soaped, the shepherdesses have corsets with ladders of ribbons and dyes that do not feel a country-like tan, and the shepherds resemble Opera dancers. But all this is of an irresistible seduction and a lie more lovable than truth.”

Boucher had a real painterly temperament, an inexhaustible invention, a prodigious facility, and an execution which is always that of an artist, even in the most loose works. Doubtless he abused these precious gifts, but prodigality is only permitted to the rich, and to throw gold through the windows he must has it. Boucher sufficed, without ever descending below himself, to the most frightful waste of talent during a long career as an artist. Making the catalog of his work is almost impossible. Boucher painted ceilings, door-tops, trumeaux, portraits, mythologies, shepherds, landscapes, opera decorations, models of tapestries; it has decorated harpsichords, screens, cabinets, sedan chairs, gala cars. His easy brush was ready for anything, and, whatever he did, he gave it a grace, a charm, a flower of color which none possessed to that degree.

The Pastoral was executed in 1763. After having passed into different hands, it was acquired under Louis XVI for the account of the Crown. Then entered the Louvre, which never left, and appears there in the magnificent hall of the eighteenth century where most of Boucher’s works are.

Height: 0.94 – Width: 0.74 – Figures: 0.62.

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