Pastoral Loves by Francois Boucher, Part 4 of the Introduction to Art and Artists of Our Time.
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Pastoral Loves by Francois Boucher.

Pastoral Loves
From the painting by Francois Boucher.


...introduction continued;

    FRANCOIS BOUCHER was born in 1703 at Paris. His father, like Watteau's, was of humble station; according to one account, a dealer in grain, while a more probable story makes him an obscure painter who, having taught his son all he knew of the art, sent him to Lemoine, an artist of repute, for further study. What Gillot did for Watteau, Lemoine did for Boucher - opened the door that gave him at once, without hesitation and without a thought or wish for return, entrance to the land in which he was born to live. Gillot was the painter of the gods and goddesses of the fashionable world of his time, and of the mock Olympus of the stage. Watteau followed his lead, but far surpassed his master in the beauty of his painting, the freedom of his drawing, and in the treatment of his subjects, into which he put all the sentiment, not to say all the poetry, of which they and he were capable. Lemoine essayed a higher flight, and took for his theme the gods and goddesses of the true Olympus, transporting to a French sky and to the latitude of Versailles the divinities that Correggio had brought to Italy. Boucher learned his lesson well, and almost at a bound made his master forgotten. But, still, he must serve his apprenticeship to life, and he began, as all the rest of his tribe had done, serving the good goddess of Poverty, living upon a crust, and earning it by painting, as Watteau did before him, cheap pictures to supply the demand of the booths and stalls about the parvis of Notre Dame. Then came a release for Boucher - no longer condemned to work for these tradesmen at sixty livres a month with board and lodging - he was employed by M. de Julienne, the friend of Watteau, to engrave the greater part of the drawings which Watteau had left behind him, and which, with nearly every thing he had painted, belonged to Julienne. He accomplished this task with great skill, and then came a still greater advance; he was elected to the Grand Prix de Rome. According to some accounts, the favor with which Boucher's early work had been received by the amateurs and collectors of the time had given rise to such jealousies and enmities that he was deprived of the right which he had earned to be sent to Rome by the State, for study, and he was reduced to the necessity of accepting the invitation of an amateur who was visiting Italy, and who sought his company. According to another account, not inconsistent with this, he had his four years in Italy, but the small pension he received was insufficient, and he suffered much from poverty and ill-health while there. But after his return to France, his success was again renewed, and his election to the Academy in 1734, at the age of thirty, opened the way to a career that, so far as worldly success was concerned, left nothing to be desired. Boucher became the favorite painter of a society as witty, as accomplished, and as dissolute as the world has ever known, and his art filled the measure of that society's appreciation. He covered the walls and ceilings of palaces, salons and boudoirs with those pictures of gods and goddesses, nymphs and loves, which are so intimately associated with his name, and created a style of his own which has had a hundred imitators, no one of whom ever approached the perfection of his model. Boucher was the Rubens of the boudoir; he was Correggio in a nutshell; he reduced the whole creation of the later decorative-school of Italy to the mimic splendors of the operatic stage. His gods and goddesses were not the grave and serious Olympians of Homer and Eschylus; they are not even the divinities of Virgil; the artist was incapable of rising even to that height. He made an Olympus of his own, and dethroning the elder rulers, he placed Venus and her nymphs, with Cupid and the Graces and a bevy of Loves in the place of Jupiter and Juno, Minerva and Apollo. To Venus he dedicated all his work, and gave up his life to celebrate her power over men and gods.
    But Boucher had yet another world in which he loved to live, and with which his name is almost as closely associated as it is with his Olympus. This was the pastoral world, the home of shepherds and shepherdesses, as far removed from the actual world of men and women as his Olympus was from that of Homer. It was a world not created by Boucher, nor due to his discovery; but he was its poet, and spread its praises by his art over all Western Europe, inextricably binding up its name and fame with his own.
Of this pastoral world of Boucher and his tribe it is not unfair to judge by a single specimen. In the picture which we copy, "Pastoral Loves," we find as much of Boucher in this kind as we should if we were to turn over a hundred portfolios. Here sits the shepherd Corydon - behold him, ye shades of Virgil and Theocritus! - on a mossy bank, his toy-shop sheep huddled at his side, guarded by the faithful Fido, no less a denizen of the toy-shop than his charge. Corydon has his hair dressed a la mode, tied up behind with a riband; he wears a roquelaire of silk fashioned on the court-ideal of a shepherd's blouse, and from his loose silk breeches darts a leg with its foot encased in a slipper and rosette, more fit to lead a measure over the mirror-like floors of Versailles than to follow the sheep across the moor. He plays on his musette to charm the ear of Phyllis, who sits opposite him, in her pretty Pompadour dress with its liveral bodice, and its gay shoulder-knots, its careless skirt showing the petticoat and the slippered foot; while, lest we should be in danger of forgetting her true vocation, she cushions her plump arm upon a pet lamb that lies upon the grassy bank beside her, and toys with the crook that might be the tortoise-shell or ivory cane of a marquise. Between Corydon and Phyllis sits her maid, lest prudery should be shocked at this woodland freedom; over their heads hangs the caged lark, a sufficient symbol to these masquerading cits, of the freedom and sweetness of rural life. If we were asked why so much space is given to an artist whose work seems so worthless from any modern point of view, we should answer that in spite of his defects and positive faults, Boucher is worth considering as representing the taste of his time more fully and completely than any of his contemporaries. Boucher was the natural fruit of his time, and his work has the scientific value, even had it no other, that always attaches to a genuine and, so to speak, necessary product of an age. But Boucher had real merit in his art, even if that art were the expression of a small stock of ideas. His coloring was often fresh and sweet, though his flesh painting was sometimes reproached, even by his contemporaries, with a tendency to brickishness: his composition was not so much learned as spontaneous and free, while his facility and abundance show him endowed with that fecundity which is one, at least, of the attributes of artistic as it is of literary greatness. If Boucher's immense vogue was due to his position as the favorite and protégé of Madame de Pompadour, who crowned her other marks of appreciation by causing him to be appointed Painter to the King, we must remember that he could only have earned the admiration of so intelligent and acute a critic as Madame de Pompadour by real merit and that of a striking kind.



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