Boucher, François

Paris 1703 - Paris 1770
Biography & List of works

The Enchanted Home : A Pastoral Landscape with Cupid’s tribute to Mme de Tencin

The Enchanted Home : A Pastoral Landscape with Cupid’s tribute to Mme de Tencin

Medium: Oil On Canvas

Size: 127 x 109 cm

Provenance:

Provenance: Claudine-Alexandrine Guérin de Tencin ; ? 1749 to her heir Jean Astruc ; Veil-Picard heirs, Paris; Private Collection, Paris; Sale Artcurial, Paris, 3 August 2007; Stair Sainty Gallery; Private collection, Canada.

Inscribed: “Contemplant des Bergers / la demeure chérie / Je n’ay point de mépris / pour leur rusticité : / Celle que je chéri joint  la simplicité / Aux sublimes clartés du /plus vaste Génie. F. Boucher[1] – translates as Contemplating the shepherds/ cherished abode / I do not disdain them for their rusticity:/ for the one I cherish joins simplicity/ with the sublime brightness of/ great genius. F. Boucher

 

Verso: three labels reading ‘3544’, ‘541’, and ‘un paisage de Boucher / pour la p.rt. de Mad. / De Tencin / no. 12

[1] It is uncertain whether this inscription was written by the artist himself, or under his direction.

 

We particularly thank Alastair Laing for his assistance in preparing this entry.

 

This entrancing work, hitherto unknown to scholars, marks something of a departure for the artist; evidently intended as a grand decoration, it is painted with a degree of attention that Boucher normally reserved for major commissions of the highest quality. It was, perhaps, the importance of the lady to whom this work is dedicated, identified by Alastair Laing as the brilliant and seductive Mme de Tencin, which inspired Boucher to devote so much attention to this substantial painting, exceptionally placed within an ornate rococo border as if it was set in an imaginary boiserie. There is a chinoiseries enclosed in a painted rococo framework by Boucher (formerly in the Rothschild Collection, in 1915) with a single figure surrounded on a more modest scale than the present work, but this is clearly a more purely decorative work than the present painting. Two other chinoiserie overdoors en camaïeu bleu, now divided between the Davids collection, Copenhagen, and that of the Earl of Chichester, have a lighter, decorative rocaille border.[1]

 

Our painting may be dated both on stylistic and historical grounds to circa 1740, by which date Mme de Tencin and Boucher were already well-acquainted. The artist was hoping to attract the attention and patronage of the Swedish Count Tessin, charged by his royal mistress, Queen Louise Ulrike, with purchasing the very best examples of contemporary French art for her expanding collection. It is perhaps hardly surprising that Count Tessin was drawn to the vivacious and brilliant Mme de Tencin; even though then aged nearly sixty she was still able to attract leading intellectuals and public figures with her wit and learning.  Among the works that Tessin purchased from Boucher was a second version of the celebrated Leda and the Swan (1742) now in the Swedish National Gallery,[2] while he also commissioned the artist, a brilliant draftsman, to illustrate his own book of fables, Faunillane ou l’Infante Jaune (1741), inspired by his admiration for Boucher’s pretty young wife. Only a few copies of the book were produced and when Tessin was recalled to Sweden in the same year, he gave the plates to Charles Pinon Duclos, who following a wager that he could write a different story to fit them, produced the romance of Acajou et Zirphile.[3]

 

Claudine-Alexandrine Guérin (1682-1749) was the daughter of a prosperous lawyer, Antoine Guérin, Seigneur de Tencin, President of the Parliament of Grenoble and representative of a successful noblesse de robe family.[4] Initially promised by her parents to the convent where she was educated, Alexandrine protested strongly at being forced against her will to make profession at the age of sixteen, a stand she repeatedly reiterated. Following the death of her father in 1705 and despite her mother’s remonstrances, she was able to transfer to a more liberal convent, where Alexandrine’s predilection for a more worldly life led her to embark upon the first of many affairs, with Arthur, Count Dillon, an Irish Jacobite and soldier who had risen to the rank of General, fighting for France in the War of the Spanish Succession. Supplying evidence that she was coerced into making profession she was able to obtain a Papal dispensation in 1711 to be relieved of her vows (a process completed the following year), for which she was evidently thoroughly unsuited.

 

She promptly left to join her older sister, Mme de Ferriol,[5] where during a brief affair with the elderly Abbé de Louvois, Philippe, Duke of Orléans, Regent of France during the minority of Louis XV, also fell briefly for her attractions. At Louvois’ death she forged a relationship that proved more important to her career, when Abbé Guillaume Dubois, not yet a Cardinal, the Regent’s first minister, took her as his mistress.[6] Dubois considerably advanced her brother Pierre’s ecclesiastical career while she helped him in his ongoing struggle with the pro-Spanish faction led by the Duchess du Maine. Pierre Guérin,[7] after being appointed Abbé of the magnificent Romanesque basilica of Vézélay, obtained the Prince Archbishopric of Embrun in 1724 (he was translated to Lyon as Primate of the Gauls in 1740), a Cardinal’s hat and the position of Ambassador to the Holy See in 1739, before being appointed to the post of First Minister to the King in 1742.

 

Unusually for a woman of her time Alexandrine proved to be adept at managing her finances; with the help of Dubois, Henault[8] and the banker Law[9] she managed to triple her fortune in less than a year, enabling her to acquire the barony of Saint-Martin on the romantic Ile de Ré.[10] Financially independent, she had by 1727 established her Salon in the hôtel particulier belonging to her sister’s husband at 22  rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin,[11] until the Ferriol family sold it in 1730. She then moved to a new apartment at 390 Rue Saint Honoré, near the Oratory, where she received her visitors on Tuesdays and Fridays; following the death of the renowned hostess, Mme de Lambert, in 1733, Alexandrine quickly attracted a distinguished circle. Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre, Pierre de Marivaux, and Alexis Piron were among the habitués, along with Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke and Philip Stanhope, 1st Earl of Chesterfield. By her relationship with the brilliant soldier, the Chevalier Louis-Camus Destouches, she was the mother of the philosopher, collector and encyclopédiste Jean le Rond d’Alembert, born in 1717[12] but the suicide in her house of another lover, Charles-Joseph de la Fresnaye in 1726, led to her temporary imprisonment in the Châtelet and Bastille prisons (where, in the latter she became acquainted with Voltaire, whom she nonetheless came to detest). Fortunately she was absolved from blame and released, becoming an adept but more discreet political intriguer bent on furthering the career of her friends, lovers and family.

 

In 1742 her considerable political influence was exemplified by her successful promotion as the King’s mistress of Marie-Anne, Marquise de la Tournelle (created Duchess of Châteauroux); with the latter’s premature death two years later, Mme de Tencin’s advanced Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Mme Le Normant d’Étoiles, later to gain renown as Mme de Pompadour, whom she had been nurturing since she had first appeared in Parisian society as a nineteen year old beauty in 1740. It was perhaps in Mme de Tencin’s Salon that the future mistress of the King first became acquainted with the work of Boucher, whose greatest patron she was to become.

 

Alexandrine’s influence had begun to decline, however, and by 1746 she had withdrawn from society. Although Mme de Tencin’s career had been in many ways dependent on the favours of powerful men, she also maintained numerous female friendships notably with Marie-Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin (1699-1777) to whom Alexandrine’s salon visitors transferred their loyalties after her death, the Marquise de Châtelet (Voltaire’s lover, brilliant, scientist, mathematician and natural philospher), and Louise, Mme Claude Dupin, friend and patron of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  In her last years grossly overweight and suffering from deteriorating eye-sight, she moved to an apartment on the Rue de Vivienne, where she died on 4 December 1749[13] attended by her last lover, the celebrated doctor, Jean Astruc (1684-1766)[14] to whom she left her estate. A talented author, Mme de Tencin’s novels survived changes of fashion and taste, to find renewed popularity when they were republished in Paris in 1825.

 

A label on the reverse demonstrates that our painting was intended to be installed in Mme de Tencin’s house, probably that in the [rue des Saint Honoré] where she spent the early 1740s, although it is uncertain how it was displayed. The inscription to the gracious hostess, to whom the artist offers his homage, was intended to be legible, so it seems more likely to have been placed where this could be easily read. The extraordinary attention Boucher dedicated to landscape and figures as well as the intricate border also leads one to suppose the artist was expecting it be given close inspection by Mme de Tencin’s visitors. A series of small nail holes set 2-3 cm from the edge, suggests that it was attached to some structure, rather than hung directly and that this band around the edge was covered, perhaps, by some kind of framework or boiserie.[15]

 

The principal elements repeat those used by the artist several times throughout his career; the colombier (pigeonnier or dove house) appears in at least seven landscape compositions from 1739 onwards (the first being Le Vieux Colombier, Hamburg, Kunsthalle), while the dog is repeated precisely in the Pont of 1751 now in the Louvre. The naked cupid, an appropriate symbol in a work dedicated to lady so practiced in the art of love and who holds aloft the scroll bearing the dedication, can be seen in an identical pose in Apollo Revealing His Divinity to the Shepherdess Issé, signed and dated 1750. The young woman selling eggs, a common sight on the streets of Paris but whose erotic associations would have been immediately recognisable to Mme de Tencin’s sophisticated friends, appears in a drawing engraved by Ingram[16] and is close in pose to the young woman in Frère Luce (Moscow, Pushkin Museum) from 1742. The seated shepherd boy placed in the very centre of the painting, can also be seen in a drawing, while the distant landscape and brilliant sky with light, scudding clouds, resembles that in the Landscape with Watermill and Temple from 1743 (Barnard Castle, The Bowes Museum). While the subject and provenance are now secure, the painting’s whereabouts since Mme de Tencin’s death in 1749 remains a mystery. Despite its inclusion in the illustrious Veil-Picard collection it nonetheless escaped the attention of scholars until its present startling revelation as a work of the highest quality, a sublime example of this great rococo painter at his most inventive.

 

The extraordinary career of François Boucher was unmatched by his contemporaries in versatility, consistency and output. For many, particularly the writers and collectors who led the revival of interest in the French rococo during the last century, his sensuous beauties, coquettish milkmaids and plump cupids represent the French eighteenth century at its most typical. His facility with the brush, even when betraying the occasional superficiality of his art, enabled Boucher to master every aspect of painting – history and mythology, portraiture, landscape, ordinary life and, as part of larger compositions, even still life, sometimes combining aspects of each discipline a masterly ensemble .

 

Boucher had been trained as an engraver, and the skills of a draftsman, which he imbued in the studio of Jean- François Cars, stood him in good stead throughout his career; his delightful drawings are one of the most sought after aspects of his oeuvre. As a student of François Le Moyne he mastered the art of composition – although in later years he was to deny his debt to Le Moyne – while the four years he spent in Italy, from 1727-1731, gave him a knowledge of the works of the masters, in the classics and in history, that his modest upbringing had denied him.

 

While in Rome Boucher had been encouraged by Vleughels to go out into the campagna and draw scenes from nature. Alastair Laing has suggested that Boucher did not paint any of the surviving views of the environs of Rome while a student there but instead, on his return to Paris, used these drawings as the basis for the painted landscapes of the early 1730s. Similarly, the figures in these compositions were often inspired by and, on occasion, directly based on Bloemart figures that he later engraved. Both his early Italianate views and the later landscapes share a common characteristic; they appear to be set on a three-sided stage, with virtually no horizon. No attempt is made to lead the eye into a distant view, as Claude had deliberately set out to do a century earlier. When Boucher was commissioned to design a set for the play Issé and again in another stage design, he did so without any appreciable change in his approach. A rare exception to this is the very beautiful landscape now in the Pushkin entitled Frère Luce, signed and dated 1742, in which the small figure of La Fontaine’s friar stands before his hovel in the right foreground while the landscape to the left disappears towards some distant hills. This is a compositional structure that the artist has employed to advantage in the present painting.

 

On his return to Paris Boucher’s energy and talents quickly brought him public renown and, in 1734, he gained full membership of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture with his splendid Rinaldo and Armida (Paris, Musée de Louvre), a bold rococo statement which, while showing his awareness of the famous composition of Domenichino in the French Royal Collection, is marked nonetheless with the very distinct characteristics of his own, maturing style. Although he painted a handful of subjects taken from the Bible throughout his career, and would always have first considered himself to be a history painter, his own repertoire of heroines, seductresses, flirtatious peasant girls and erotic beauties was better suited to a lighter, more decorative subject matter as well as the hedonistic taste of his patrons.

 

His mastery of technique and composition enabled him to move from large scale tapestry cartoons (he worked throughout his career for both the Beauvais and Gobelins tapestry factories, becoming director of the latter in 1755), to intimate masterpieces such as the Diana Resting (Paris, Louvre) or Leda and the Swan (Los Angeles, Private Collection) and the occasional scene from everyday life such as The Luncheon (Paris, Louvre), with its elegantly dressed figures grouped around a well-laid table.

 

Enormously successful and widely admired, Boucher’s output was prodigious. First patronized by the Crown in the 1730s, he executed numerous royal and princely commissions until his death in 1770, working particularly for Louis XV’s mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour in each of her several palaces, having succeeded Carle van Loo as Premier Peintre du Roi and Director of the Royal Academy. Always ready to utilize his talents in other fields, he designed stage sets for theatre and opera and provided drawings to be used as designs for figures at the Vincennes and later Sevres porcelain factories. As a teacher he was much loved by his many students, who included Fragonard, Le Prince, Deshays, Brenet, Baudouin, Lagrenée, and Madame de Pompadour herself. Even David, a distant cousin, in his earliest surviving works with their colourful rococo palette, was clearly influenced by Boucher. Not since Le Brun had a single French artist held such a monopoly on the imagery of a particular society or left such a mark on the arts of his time.      

[1] My thanks to Alastair Laing for this reference, written communication 30 September 2007.

[2] The first version of Leda and the Swan was sold by Stair Sainty Gallery in 1985 to Mr and Mrs Stuart Resnick, who have made it a promised gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[3] Pierre Laujon (1727-1811), in Œuvres choisies, 1811, vol IV, pp. 226-27, wrote that this was written to give the author an opportunity to shine in Mme de Tencin’s Salon.

[4] The status of the family’s nobility is uncertain; Mme de Tencin’s uncle became a Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of Malta, which would have required a more illustrious noble descent than the standard reference sources suggest.

[5] Married to Augustin de Ferriol d’Argental, a president à mortier of the tribunal of Metz and younger brother of Charles Comte de Ferriol d’Argental, French Ambassador to the Ottoman Sultan. Charles de Ferriol was the lover of Charlottee Aïssé, whom he had bought as a slave, educated and brought back to France where her relationship with Ferriol inspired the Abbé Prévost’s Histoire d’une Grecque moderne, and three works entitled La Circassienne, by Alexandre de Lavergne (1854), Louis Bouilhet (1872) and Dejoux (1898). Her correspondence with Mme de Tencin, Mme de Villars and Mme de Lafayette, was published for the first time in 1805, and then republished in 1846 with a commentary by J. Ravenel, while many of these letters were also included in Lettres de Mlle Aïssé, with an introduction by Voltaire (1787).

[6] In his entertaining and candid memoirs, Dubois, while professing himself ridiculous to be so in love at his age, described Mme de Tencin as having “been the sustenance of certain honest folk who were capable of supporting the regime of a pretty woman… the conduct of Mme de Tencin is a flint which breaks the teeth of calumny. Methinks that in her eyes there is something of eternal beatitude. Those eyes, which have made me commit so many follies, are not those of a Raphael virgin; they have malice as lively as words; they say all they wish – it is saying much – and voluptuousness is tempered in them with sense. Her figure is elegant, tall, and withal, slightly stooping, the result, she says, of her original vocation as a nun, when she was more often than not on her knees; her face is round, with a little clear-cut nose, cheeks of the deepest crimson, teeth of pearl, in a mouth somewhat largely moulded, but always half opened in an appetising smile. She is reproached with having a neck too long, but it is so supple that it is perfectly graceful. I could extend my description from the known to the unknown, but I am too much the Archbishop to reveal what should be hidden, and gauze is a mundane invention not tolerated by the canons of the Church.  Richelieu, who is a good judge on such matters, has said, without flattery, that Madame de Tencin has the gift of pleasing four persons, an archbishop, a banker, a duke, and a Prince of the Blood. … As for qualities of heart and mind, there are none lacking to this lady; she excels in maintaining herself in becoming position at Court; she asks for nothing, everything is accorded her…. Madame de Tencin is much attached to me and me to her…. One day I will make a will in her favour; for my idiot of a brother would not know how to spend an income of a hundred thousand livresMemoirs of Cardinal Dubois, translated from the French by Ernest Dowson, London, 1899, 2 Vols, Vol 2, pp. 200-202.

[7] Described by Cardinal Dubois, as a “libertine, capable or guilty of disgraceful acts; and if they would believe me, they would send him to Italy, where he need not be at pains to mend his ways.” Memoirs of Cardinal Dubois, p. 201.

[8] With whom she opened the short-lived but immensely profitable Financière Tencin-Hénault, along with her older brothers François, president of the parlement of Grenoble, and Pierre. After some successful but possibly fraudulent speculations, it was liquidated, having made a vast fortune for the partners shortly before the collapse of the Law banking edifice.

[9] Who tried to seduce her with the offer of millions, but whom she nonetheless resisted, while accepting his financial advice.

[10] She is sometimes referred to erroneously as the Marquise de Tencin, a title to which she would have had no right and made no claim.

[11] This house was later the home of the renowned actress, Mlle Mars (1779-1847) and the artist Théodore Chassériau established his studio there.

[12] She abandoned the unfortunate boy on the steps of the chapel of Saint-Jean-le-Rond, attached to the north tower of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, when he was but a few days old. In accordance with contemporary practice the chapel gave this brilliant mathematician and philosopher his name. Fortunately his father (who died when the boy was nine) took an interest in him and secretly paid for Jean’s education, placing him with a nurse, Mme Rousseau with whom he lived for much of his life.

[13] She died “en philosophie”, that is without the sacrament of confession and absolution, yet was buried in consecrated ground.

[14] Astruc was the author of the first major medical work on syphilis and venereal diseases.

[15] The slightly brighter colours of the edge suggest that it remained covered for some years, early in the painting’s life.

[16] See the engraving after this drawing, Pierrette Jean-Richard, L’Oeuvre gravé de François Boucher, Editions des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1978, no, 1204.