Fashion and Gallantry
To contemporaries, Jean-François de Troy was best known as one of the greatest history painters of the first half of the century--indeed, he ended his official career as director of the French Academy in Rome. But he had also turned his hand to genre and in the 1720s and 1730s painted a series of brilliant scenes of dalliance and flirtation. One of his masterpieces is The Declaration of Love. It was acquired by the Prussian king Frederick II, a passionate collector of contemporary French painting, and hung in his country palace of Sanssouci, Potsdam, along with works by Watteau and Lancret. The Declaration of Love is derived from Watteau's fêtes galantes, showing as it does a group of seven young aristocrats dressed in the latest fashion, flirting in an elegant park. But the contemporary costumes depicted by De Troy with evident delight in their embroidery and brocade, their shimmer and sheen; the blatant gesture of the main protagonist as he presents a posy to the woman in a silver dress; and the exchanges of glance and gesture give the scene a more literal aspect than the ambiguous and melancholic poetry we encounter in the art of Watteau.
Sheer delight in the material world--and the world of materials--is found in the genre paintings of François Boucher. In midcareer he made several showing young women absorbed in various daily activities, such as A Lady Fastening Her Garter. These exquisite scenes celebrate the beauty of the women and the lavish materiality of their surroundings. His Presumed Portrait of Madame Boucher--"presumed" because the model here employed is a generic type in Boucher's work and the title was proposed only in the nineteenth century--shows a coquettish young woman, dressed in the height of fashion, reclining on a daybed. After putting aside a book to read a letter, she sits up reflectively amid a rich display of silk brocades, a screen, and Chinese porcelain. Such scenes of opulent, privileged, and leisured life, superbly rendered by Boucher with a jewel-like technique, found a ready market both in France and abroad. But Boucher had trained as a history painter and preferred to work on a more ambitious scale, making cartoons for tapestries or decorations for palaces.