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Who was Francois Boucher?

Updated on December 2, 2016

Francois Boucher (1703-1770) was a French painter, whose polished pastoral and mythological scenes in delicate pastel shades exemplify the rococo style. The favorite painter of Mme. de Pompadour, he conveyed the irresponsible, playfully sensuous, yet intellectually refined atmosphere of the court of Louis XV.

Boucher, the son of a draftsman, was born in Paris on Sept. 29, 1703. Through his studies with the painter Francois Lemoyne, he became familiar with the large, yet elegantly refined Venetian decorations of Tiepolo and with ttie sensuous nudes of Correggio. From 1727 to 1731 he studied in Rome. In 1734, Boucher joined the faculty of the Royal Academy, and in 1755, through the patronage of Mme. de Pompadour, he became director of the Gobelin tapestry works. He also designed tapestries for the factory at Beauvais. In 1763 he was made first painter of Louis XV.

Boucher had a fully developed personal style that remained more or less constant throughout his career. His work, particularly well suited to the small, intimate rooms of the 18th century houses, is on a smaller scale than that of Lemoyne - more like that of Watteau, from whose drawings Boucher made engravings. Many of Boucher's finest compositions are light, delectable mythological scenes populated by pretty nude females; for example, the Triumph of Venus (1740; National Museum, Stockholm). His more original pastoral landscapes in soft colors, filled with doll-like shepherds and shepherdesses, seem to have developed from the need for light decorative themes for tapestries and are derived from Watteau and Dutch masters. The Pastorales, or Fetes italien-nes, and the Story of Psyche are the best known of Boucher's tapestry designs. His Chinese Tapestries, presented by Louis XV to the Emperor Ch'ien Lung in 1765, were instrumental in developing the vogue for chinoiserie.

Boucher's religious works, generally less successful than his secular paintings, include the Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds, which were commissioned by Mme. de Pompadour for her chapel at Bellevue. Boucher also painted genre scenes, such as the Marchande de Modes (1746; National Museum, Stockholm) and the Dejeuner (1739; Louvre, Paris). In addition, he designed Sevres porcelain and made a vast quantity of drawings and engravings.

His style was continued by his pupil Frago-nard. Boucher's popularity declined, however, toward the end of his life, partly because Denis Diderot criticized his work as an example of decadence in art. He died in Paris on May 30, 1770.

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