National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Love Letter François Boucher (artist)
French, 1703 - 1770
The Love Letter, 1750
oil on canvas
overall: 81.2 x 75.2 cm (31 15/16 x 29 5/8 in.)
Timken Collection
1960.6.3
On View
From the Tour: 18th-Century France — The Rococo and Watteau
Object 6 of 9

The Love Letter was commissioned by Madame de Pompadour herself. The king's mistress ordered it and a companion painting for her chateau at Bellevue, where they probably hung over doorways, built into curving oval frames. Pieces of canvas were later added at the corners to make this painting rectangular.

The scene is a pastoral idyll. The young "shepherdesses" wear fine silks, and a contemporary audience would understand an erotic promise in the display of pink toes. Idealized visions of country life were common on the stage and in real-life masquerades. Denis Diderot, disdainful of the frivolity of Boucher's scenes, complained, "Shall I never be rid of these damned pastorals?" Yet the encyclopedist, who was an influential critic, also appreciated the brilliance of Boucher's painting, which captures the luminous colors of shells, butterflies, and polished stones—objects the artist collected so he could copy their fragile iridescence.

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