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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Francois Boucher

Often we make jokes to the effect that behind every successful man is a woman "nagging" him, indicating the husband may not be as ambitious as his "better half" might like. While something of a cliche, not to mention a stereotype, I suppose, giving credit where it's due, it's also more common than we sometimes think. That was certainly the case with one artist, Francois Boucher (pronounced Bo-ker), a French Rococo painter born in 1703. Boucher is, in fact, the one artist most associated with the flowery Rococo (pronounced RO-co-CO) style that was prominent in the mid 1700s. Boucher is unique in another sense, in that not one but two women were primarily responsible for his success in art.

Typically, the first woman was his wife, Marie-Jeanne Buseau, who was not without a great degree of artistic talent on her own. She often served as both model and studio assistant. The second was probably even more crucial to his career, and certainly more powerful where it counted. She was Madame de Pompadour, something of an amateur artist herself, a major supporter, and generous patron. More importantly, of course, she was also the mistress of the king, Louis XV. But Boucher's career was not without a good foundation. He'd studied under Watteau, though strangely, it seems he never actually met the man.  His early art education consisted of making engravings of the master's work. In 1724 he won the prestigious Prix de Rome, a sort of artistic scholarship to study free of charge at the French Academy in Rome.

Le Dejeuner, 1739, Francois Boucher
 When he returned, he plied these feminine and academic advantages into his first royal commission in 1735.  Thereafter, he worked almost continuously as an interior decorator/designer at Versailles and Fontainebleau, as well as chief inspector at the Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory where it seems he also moonlighted as a designer (when did he sleep?). His subject matter encompassed everything from portraits, to landscapes ,to genre, such as his 1739 painting Le Dejeuner (The Luncheon).  It depicts a mother with her two playful young children, their governess and the butler serving them coffee.  The painting is a modest little canvas with charming insights into the domestic life of the average middle-class French household (perhaps his own). After thirty years of this kind of thing, Boucher was named First Painter to the King in 1765.  Five years later, with the Rococo era quickly becoming passe', and his "friend at court" having long since been replaced by a younger mistress, the artist died at his easel.  He was 67.

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