Winter Amusements by Francois Boucher, Part 5 of the Introduction to Art and Artists of Our Time.
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Winter Amusements by Francois Boucher.

Winter Amusements
From the picture by Francois Boucher.


...introduction continued;

    We have spoken of his fecundity. De Goncourt says of him that the orders with which he was besieged, the paintings and drawings that were demanded of him on all sides, were very far from exhausting his activity. Beside the expenses of living, incident to his position, he was an extravagant collector of the curiosities that were fashionable at the time, and his need of money was always in advance of his power to gratify it; but even the fury of labor that this need made necessary did not exhaust his energies. His industry was untiring, and his only recreation seemed to consist in turning from one kind of work to another. He early began the practice of working ten hours a day at his easel, and he kept this up as long as life lasted. But with all this labor he found time for leisure, and he seemed to make it almost a point of honor to attach his name to every fashionable folly of the day. The critic Thore (W. Burger) tells us, says M. de Goncourt, that he had seen a small medallion which Boucher had painted for the Pompadour, with a pastoral subject - a charming declaration of love made by a shepherd to his shepherdess, with baskets of roses, and be-ribanded hats, and birds in cages, and air, and space, and voluptuousness - all on a bit of ivory no bigger than the lady's hand. And once when, in the middle of the century, there broke out in Paris one of those madnesses that from time to time take possession of French society, and a rage for jumping-jacks succeeded to the rage for cutting figures out of paper, the Duchess of Orleans took it into her head to have a jumping-jack worth 1500 livres, but of the best make, and worth the money, it was to Boucher she applied, to design and paint the toy. But Boucher did not spend all his leisure upon trifles light as air like these. He found things to do that were better worth doing, and from time to time he made designs for the scenery and decorations of the Opera-House, and did the same service for some of the other theatres of Paris; his performances adding greatly to the brilliancy of the representations. In the theatre erected by Monnet in the short space of thirty-seven days, for the fair of Saint Laurent held in 1752, Boucher made all the designs for the auditorium, the ceiling, the decoration and the ornaments, and directed the entire scenery. And it was not mere sketches he supplied, nor rough indications of designs, but good-sized pictures, some of which, when they had served their purpose with the scene-painters, he sent to the Salon. More important was his connection with the two national manufactures of tapestry - those of Beauvais and the Gobelins. He was made Director of the former, and Inspector of the latter, and in both positions he did much to restore these important industries to their original standard of excellence.
    Boucher had all the tastes of the art-collectors of his time combined, and he added to them one not common, that for such natural objects as could delight the eye by their color - precious stones and minerals and shells. His studio was rich in specimens of all that was most delicate, beautiful, splendid in these kingdoms of nature, and the collection was arranged with exquisite taste on tables of agate or Oriental alabaster, or in cabinets of rare woods often made more precious by the beauty of their carving and design. It was not alone nor chiefly as rarities or as curiosities that Boucher collected these objects; he felt it necessary for his art, for the cultivation of his eye, that he should be surrounded by beautiful things, and it speaks well for his taste that he brought his work to such a test, and adopted such a standard, however unsuccessful he may have been in his efforts to reach it. One other point we must notice, and that is the share Boucher had in cultivating the taste of his time for the porcelains of China and Japan. His studio contained, side by side with the natural objects just mentioned, a considerable number of these beautiful or curious products of Oriental taste. The appreciation of Chinese and Japanese porcelains had begun in the reign of Louis XIV., when they were first imported into France through the medium of Holland; but in the reign of Louis XV. the fashion for collecting them was much more extended. It was taken up by Madame de Pompadour, and since in this matter, as in everything relating to art, she sought the advice of Boucher, he had opportunity enough for gratifying his own taste in that direction, and for making valuable additions to his own collection. The influence of the Pompadour and of Boucher combined was a powerful factor in the development of the manufacture of porcelain in France.
    Happy in his studio, where he lived surrounded by beautiful things; continually occupied with work exactly suited to his capacities and his tastes; sought after by friends who enjoyed his company, and sympathized with his pursuits; aided and encouraged by the favor and protection of the most powerful woman in France - the life of Boucher might serve as an illustration of pure epicureanism. But it would be to wrong him, were we to overlook the solid qualities that first gained him his place, and, when he had gained it, secured him in its possession. It may be admitted that the bulk of his work has no enduring claim upon the world's consideration; that, as art, judged by any serious standard, it is nearly worthless; but it has a real value that cannot be denied it as a faithful reflex of the society for which it was created: if Boucher cannot be thoroughly understood without a knowledge of what the high society of France in his day was thinking, feeling, acting; so, all that we read about that society finds one of its most brilliant illustrations in the work of his indefatigable and omnipresent talent.



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