Although they bear different dates, François Boucher’s Allegory of Painting and Allegory of Music
Their traditional provenance — that they were painted for the elector of Bavaria — is open to question (see discussion below).
Both women bear close resemblance to Boucher’s preferred type, which by this date had become an idealized representation of youthful femininity rather than an actual model; a drawing, dated 1768, shows a very similar head to that in Music (Alexandre Ananoff, L’oeuvre dessiné de François Boucher 1732 – 1806 [Paris, 1966], no. 377, fig. 78).
The paintings exhibit the free and open brushwork that Boucher favored in his later years. In both works the artist apparently applied the paint relatively quickly, using a wet-into-wet technique. Numerous pentimenti indicate the freedom with which the artist painted the compositions directly on the canvas, probably with only minimal underdrawing. Indeed, the artist in Allegory of Painting, who quickly sketches her subject on the canvas with chalk, suggests the method employed by Boucher himself.
Given the off-white ground color used in both paintings, Boucher may have sketched in the preliminary design in a darker color, perhaps black or red chalk.
Certain passages, such as the feet of the woman and the still life at lower right, appear unfinished, although the picture bears a signature and date, F. Boucher 1754. The painting is unrecorded by Ananoff and was first published in Donald Garstang, ed., Master Paintings 1350 – 1800 (London and New York, 1989), 99 – 103, repro., entry by Wintermute. The provenance of this earlier version is traceable only to 1880.
For the drawing, see Alexandre Ananoff, L’oeuvre dessiné de François Boucher 1732 – 1806 (Paris, 1966), 244, no. 940; Regina Shoolman Slatkin first associated the drawing with the Washington painting in Regina Shoolman Slatkin, François Boucher in North American Collections: 100 Drawings (Washington, DC, 1973), 107 – 108, no. 83, repro.
No corresponding compositional sketch for Painting has come to light, although a spirited black chalk drawing of a young boy’s head is evidently a study for the child-model at the right of the picture.
Black chalk with white heightening, 26.5 × 21.0 cm, private collection (see Alexandre Ananoff, L’oeuvre dessiné de François Boucher 1732 – 1806 [Paris, 1966], no. 306, fig. 58).
See the discussion by Alastair Laing, François Boucher (1703 – 1770) (New York, 1986), 284 – 285.
For example, Alexandre Ananoff, L’oeuvre dessiné de François Boucher 1732 – 1806 (Paris, 1966), nos. 813, 815, 818, 829, 835, 840; figs. 130 – 134.
See Pierrette Jean-Richard, L’oeuvre gravée de François Boucher dans la collection Edmond de Rothschild (Paris, 1978), nos. 667, 670 – 674, 857.
The low viewpoints of the two paintings and the broad handling of the brushwork suggest that they were intended as overdoors, to be placed high in a decorative scheme where close examination would not have been possible. Both compositions are structured around a series of curvilinear forms, creating dynamic, oval compositions that must have been echoed in their original framing. Pairs of holes, now filled, in the corners of both paintings were probably produced when elaborate paneled surrounds were nailed over the canvases once they were in place.
See technical reports in the NGA curatorial files.
An analysis of the cusping of the canvas weave in Painting indicates that the canvas may have been cut down very slightly at the bottom edge.
Paul Mantz, “La Galerie de M. Rothan,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 2, 7 (1873): 442.
The provenance of the Washington pendants, based on tradition rather than documentary evidence, derives from Mantz and is equally suspect: he believed they had been painted for the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian III Joseph (1745 – 1777).
Paul Mantz, “La Galerie de M. Rothan,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 2, 7 (1873): 442.
André Michel, François Boucher (Paris, 1906), 51.
Letter to the author, April 20, 1997.
Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 318, offers the possibility that they were commissioned by Joseph von Dufresne, a courtier of the duke who had a large collection of French pictures (see also correspondence in NGA curatorial files).
Allegories of the arts feature prominently in the oeuvre of Boucher and his circle. In conceiving the two paintings, he followed a standard formulation that he had employed on several occasions. Boucher leaves open the question of who Music represents: Is she a general personification of “music,” or someone more specific, such as one of the nine muses, the mythological attendants of Apollo? If so, she is likely Euterpe, the muse of music, or perhaps Clio, the muse of history, a figure Boucher represented before in similar fashion.
Private collection, 81.2 × 128 cm; see Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher (Lausanne and Paris, 1976), 2: no. 489, and Denys Sutton, François Boucher (Tokyo, 1982), no. 53 (where it is misidentified as Polymnia, muse of heroic hymns; the correct identification comes from Jean Daullé’s [1703 – 1763] engraving of 1756, which reproduces an earlier version, painted along with its pendant Erato, for Madame de Pompadour; see Pierrette Jean-Richard, L’oeuvre gravée de François Boucher dans la collection Edmond de Rothschild [Paris, 1978], no. 558).
With her long flute and lyre, the figure of Polymnia (see fig. 3) more likely personifies Euterpe, muse of music and lyric poetry.
In this regard, Slatkin understood the armor to “undoubtedly symbolize the triumph of music over the violence of men” (Regina Shoolman Slatkin, François Boucher in North American Collections: 100 Drawings [Washington, DC, 1973], 107).
Albert Pomme de Mirimonde, “Les allégories de la musique II: le retour de Mercure et les allégories des beaux-arts,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 6, 73 (May – June 1969): 357.
The figure personifying Painting is even more generic. We cannot even be certain that Boucher intended to represent the art of painting rather than drawing, since the woman is shown sketching the model in white chalk.
This possibility was kindly pointed out to me by Alastair Laing (letter to the author, April 20, 1997).
He calls Pictura the “muse of painting,” although no such muse exists; Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 317.
See, for example, the set of five overdoors commissioned in 1756 by Count Adam Gottlieb Moltke (1710 – 1792) for the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen (see Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher [Lausanne and Paris, 1976], 2: nos. 467 – 471), and the four oval allegories painted in 1758, also representing putti engaged in the arts (Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher [Lausanne and Paris, 1976], 2: nos. 492 – 495). In both suites Painting is represented by two geniuses drawing on a sketchpad. Around 1753 Boucher’s student Jean Honoré Fragonard painted a suite of overdoors, representing the four arts as idealized women attended by putti, for Bergeret de Grancourt, one of Boucher’s most important patrons (see Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work [New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987], nos. 3 – 6).
Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 317, wondered whether one of two overdoor paintings in the Wallace Collection, London, depicting a Seated Nymph with Flutes and the muse Clio may be associated with the Washington pair. However, the sizes and proportions do not match, and the pictures may be old copies after Boucher rather than originals. See the discussion by John Ingamells, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures, 4 vols. (London, 1985 – 1992), 3:85 – 88, nos. P481, P490.
The winged putti that gather around the female personifications are best described as “génies,” or geniuses, which symbolize “the expanse of the spirit, the power of the imagination, and the activity of the soul.”
“L’étendu de l’esprit, la force de l’imagination, l’activité de l’âme, voilà le genie,” in “Génie [Philosophie & Littér.],” Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert, Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de lettres, 17 vols. (Paris, 1751 – 1765; reprint New York, 1969), 7:582.
For example, in the suite of panels allegorizing the various mechanical and applied arts painted around 1750 – 1753 for Madame de Pompadour (New York, Frick Collection; Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher [Lausanne and Paris, 1976], 2: nos. 454 – 457). Similar figures appear in an overdoor from 1768, Three Cupids Making Music (private collection; Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher [Lausanne and Paris, 1976], 2: no. 659, fig. 1716). Naked little boys without wings personify the arts of painting, sculpture, and drawing in a chalk drawing published by Alexandre Ananoff, L’oeuvre dessiné de François Boucher 1732 – 1806 (Paris, 1966), no. 33, fig. 8.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, L’art du dix-huitième siècle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1880 – 1884), 1:146; translation by R. Ironside in Edmond de Goncourt, French XVIII Century Painters (New York, 1948), 66.
Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher (Lausanne and Paris, 1976), 2: no. 545.
Painting and Music were created during a period late in Boucher’s life when he was at the height of his influence, if not at the peak of his powers. In 1765 he was appointed First Painter to the King, and elected director of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. During this time his talents as a decorator were in great demand, and his prodigious output sometimes resulted in a facility of brushwork and repetition of motifs. In Painting and Music, the fluid and open technique eschews details and complex working of the surface for a more rapid alla prima effect. This result may be a function of the pictures’ destination as overdoor panels or, perhaps, the artist’s failing eyesight,
See Alastair Laing, François Boucher (1703 – 1770) (New York, 1986), 306.
Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 317. Laing, letter to the author, April 20, 1997, expressed the opinion that Painting, rather than Music, is the more accomplished picture.
This point had already been already made in regard to the Washington paintings by Paul Mantz, François Boucher, Lemoyne et Natoire (Paris, 1880), 153.
This text was previously published in Philip Conisbee et al., French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (Washington, DC, 2009), 25–32.
Collection data may have been updated since the publication of the print volume. Additional light adaptations have been made for the presentation of this text online.
January 1, 2009