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Louvre: François Boucher – Diana leaving her bath

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François Boucher - Diana leaving her bath

Sully wing – 2nd floor – The painters of Louis XV – Room 38

Diana leaving her bath is a delightful painting; it is considered perhaps the masterpiece of Boucher.

“The goddess, one of her nymphs, kneeling beside her, has just taken off her shoes, is preparing to enter the water. She is naked, of that silvery nudity of virginal goddesses; one of her legs raised on her knee, with the other leg she feels the water; she holds in her hand the thread of pearls that she has just detached from her collar. Leaning forward, she tilts a little her charming head seen in profile, hair rolled up, intermingled with pearls and where shines a small crescent. The collar, the shoulders, the torso, bathed in light and transparent shadows, have an extreme flexibility, freshness and grace. The nymph is also charming, and these young bodies, easily folded in poses coquettes, stand out from a background of landscape made of reeds, brush, trees with crooked roots clinging to the tear of a ravine, a stream of water in which the dogs drink, and a mound at the edge of the spring, on which are crumpled and broken, with shimmering folds, stuffs nonchalantly thrown. A quiver, arrows and, in a corner, an arch near a trophy of game, composed of partridges and hares, quaintly furnish the angles of the canvas; all this with a certainty and an admirable touch. Boucher has the merit that his least compositions paint and decorate the wall to which they are suspended.”

Theophile Gautier, whose enthusiastic description of Diana leaving her bath has just been read, was the first to restore to honor Boucher’s painting, which had fallen into unjust discredit since the Revolution. This romantic of perfect taste was enamored of a real passion for elegant eighteenth-century beauties. After him, Jules Janin led the rehabilitation crusade, followed by Banville, Burger-Thoré and especially the Goncourt whose admirable studies revived and loved the delicious pastoral and sheepfolds. Today, the charm of these adorably precious and so finely spiritual painters has reconquered all its empire and their paintings, once so decried, know the glory of the fabulous auctions, in the sales of collections. We do not discuss them anymore, we admire them.

Speaking of Diana leaving her bath, Mr. Gustave Kahn, who devoted to Boucher a scholarly and literary study, expresses himself as follows:

“Diane has nothing of the imperious huntress; she has a childlike serenity, an innocence, a purity of flower barely hatched; innocence is the smile of the childish mouth half open; beautiful shades of amber and rose embellish the frail and harmonious body of the young goddess, and around her the funds of Boucher’s pastoral care display the screen of their meticulousness and their garden dream of the Hesperides.”

Let’s take a look at the two charming pictures for a moment and consider the decor around them. The painters of that period have often been accused of having understood nothing of nature, and of having forged conventions, combed, washed, entirely derived from their fancy. Boucher does not deserve such a reproach. While he idealizes his landscape, he is careful to remove anything that could shock the eye or break the harmony. Do not look for rugged trails, muddy ruts, all of which are too bad for the gracious people he wants to get out of there. No stains on the ground where the divine bather puts his pretty feet, but look up and tell me if these trees with beautiful green foliage are not real trees, if the air and light do not circulate there, if it’s not the real nature, the one we see at every step in our cross-country walks? Moreover, is it so paradoxical that a more beautiful land than nature is disposed under the feet of goddesses accustomed to walk on the shining clouds of Olympus?

And what art in the composition! As everything is admirably arranged for the joy of the eyes, as everything sings, vibrates, smiles! “For his pastoral and mythologies, his work is dazzling. He has a supreme, primordial concern: the arrangement. He wants it full, orderly, complicated, amusing; he wants to give something unforeseen, surprise, ingenious detail, spiritual detail. That is why, as the Goncourt say, “he intertwines the saxifrages, he knots the vine mad in curtains, he frames the landscapes and the nymphs in hangings of fir trees with big arms that bend and swing their long green taper on the body bathers.””(G. Kahn.)

Diana leaving her bath was exhibited at the Salon of 1742. She was paid 3,595 francs on the sale of M. de Narbonne in 1850, then acquired by the State, in 1852, for 3,200 francs on the sale of M. de Cuyck: and Since then, this painting is in the Louvre.

Height: 1.56 – Width: 1.73 – Figures: 0.55.

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