(Paris 1703 - Paris 1770)
Autumn: Three Putti with a Basket of Grapes
Inscribed Boucher in pencil on the verso.
Further inscribed for W.P.A 31/3 50. M Dund(?) 35 on the verso.
174 x 234 mm. (6 7/8 x 9 1/4 in.)
This charming red chalk drawing is Boucher’s preparatory study for Autumn, one of a series of etchings of the Four Seasons by Louis Félix de La Rue, all after drawings by Boucher, that were published by Gabriel Huquier, the leading print publisher, engraver and collector in Paris for much of the 18th century. Datable to after 1745, the four etchings are among a series of various prints of putti after designs by Boucher, issued by Huquier in the form of cahiers, or sets. The preparatory drawings by Boucher for these prints, including the present sheet, all belonged to Huquier and were sold at auction following his death in 1772.
The present sheet appears to be the only extant preparatory drawing for the Four Seasons. A stylistically comparable red chalk drawing of Two Putti with Doves by Boucher was formerly in the collection of Max Loeb in Paris, while a counterproof of the Loeb drawing appears on the verso of a similar drawing of Two Putti in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. Also similar is a drawing of Three Putti with Trophies, Palm Fronds and a Laurel Garland in a private collection in Brussels. The seated putto in the foreground of the present drawing is repeated in reverse (and thus likely based on the related etching of Autumn) in an overdoor painting of An Allegory of Autumn by Boucher and his workshop, signed and dated 1753, formerly in the Edmond de Rothschild collection in Geneva and today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Margaret Morgan Grasselli has noted that ‘No other eighteenth-century artist…depicted children so frequently and to such varying effect: to parody adult activities; to allegorize the seasons, the time of day, the four elements, and the arts; to enliven, observe, attend, and comment on mythological or historical events; or simply to show them being children.’
A pupil of the painter François Lemoyne and the engraver Jean-François Cars, François Boucher’s first significant project was producing numerous engravings after drawings by Antoine Watteau for Jean de Jullienne’s Figures de differents caractères…par Antoine Watteau, also known as the Recueil Jullienne. Despite winning the Prix de Rome in 1723, Boucher was unable to take up the scholarship in Italy due to a lack of space at the Académie de France in Rome. He eventually went to Rome at his own expense in 1728, lodging at the Académie de France and returning to Paris around 1731. Received into the Académie Royale in 1734, Boucher soon earned a number of significant commissions. The favourite painter of Louis XV’s mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, Boucher painted decorations for Versailles, Fontainebleau, Marly and elsewhere, as well as several private homes in Paris. He also painted numerous easel pictures – pastoral landscapes, religious and mythological subjects, genre scenes, chinoiseries and portraits – and designed tapestry cartoons for the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, where he succeeded Jean-Baptiste Oudry as surinspector. He also provided designs for Sèvres porcelain and produced a large number of drawings for prints.
In 1765 he was named premier peintre du roi, or First Painter to the King, and also succeeded Carle Vanloo as director of the Académie. By the end of his career, however, Boucher’s style had become somewhat obsolete, and had largely fallen out of favour. Among his pupils were Jean-Baptiste Deshays and Pierre-Antoine Baudouin – both of whom became his sons-in-law – as well as Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Nicolas-Guy Brenet and Gabriel de Saint-Aubin.
A gifted draughtsman, Boucher was as prolific as he was talented, and claimed to have produced ten thousand drawings over a career of some fifty years. One of the leading painters in France between the 1730s and the 1760s, Boucher was also one the most prolific French draughtsmen of the eighteenth century. As one modern scholar has noted of the artist, ‘Every medium served him: pen, pencil, watercolor, chalk, especially his favorite trois crayons, bistre wash, india ink, grisaille, and often a combination of several of these. No subject was too lofty or too humble to engage his attention. Whether he drew from life or from his fertile imagination…Boucher’s masterly touch is always present, always unmistakeable.’
The artist’s drawn oeuvre includes all manner of subjects, including pastoral scenes, nudes, religious, historical and mythological subjects, book illustrations, chinoiseries, landscapes, nudes, genre scenes, studies of children and heads, as well as designs for tapestries, porcelain and fountains. He produced many finished drawings as independent works, often adapting and elaborating a head or figure from one of his paintings. While his preference was for black, red, and (particularly in his later years) brown chalk, Boucher also made highly finished drawings in pastel and, at times, drew on coloured paper. A large number of his drawings were finished works for collectors and the art market, and many were engraved and reproduced in considerable numbers – often making use of new printmaking techniques that allowed chalk drawings to be reproduced with a high degree of verisimilitude - by such printmakers as Louis-Marin Bonnet, Gilles Demarteau or Gabriel Huquier. His drawings were greatly admired, and while many were preparatory studies for his paintings, others were produced as finished works of art, to be sold to collectors or reproduced by engravers. Indeed, Boucher’s popularity as a draughtsman owes much to the fact that many of his drawings were reproduced and widely distributed as engravings.
His sale, Paris, rue des Mathurins [Joullain], 9 November – 4 December 1772, part of lot 374 (‘Les quatres Saisons, idem; elles ont aussi été gravées par la Ruë& portent 6 pouc. 10 lig. de haut sur 9 pouc. 3 lig. de large.’, bt. Chariot for 94 livres, 1 sou)
Madame R. Blay
Her sale (‘Collection de Mme R. Blay’), Paris, Hôtel Drouot [Lair Dubreuil], 4 July 1929, lot 14 (as School of Boucher)