User:Jahsonic/AHE/The 18th century: Eros Enlightened/The erokitsch of François Boucher
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
François Boucher is born sixteen years after Watteau. Where Watteau only reluctantly joins ladies in their sleeping quarters, Boucher follows them in their toilets, boudoirs and other private dwellings. He embodies the decorative rococo-light-heartedness to the bone, his pores breathe rococo. His most famous painting is a Portrait of Marie-Louise O'Murphy [image], a work that is in the collective memory.
Casanova tells in his Memoirs of a girl called 'O-Morphi', who he had painted by a German painter. The description of that painting eerily matches that of how O'Murphy was painted by Boucher: "The position in which he painted it was delightful. She was lying on her stomach, her arms and her bosom leaning on a pillow, and holding her head sideways as if she were partly on the back. The clever and tasteful artist had painted her legs and calves with so much skill and truth that the eye could not but wish to see more; I was delighted with that portrait; it was a speaking likeness." (tr. A. Machen)
The painting is as provocative as a 20th century pin-up. Reading the description of Casanova we feel the urge to lie down comfortably beside this beautiful girl and caress her soft skin. We sense that she is not some idealized representation, but to an actual portrait of a real girl. Lascivious, lusty and luxuriant are the words that best fit Boucher's canvases. Adjectives that also apply to the work of Rubens, but in the case of Boucher there is a certain elegance whereas in the work of Rubens there is unwieldy indolence. The model Marie-Louise O'Murphy the Boisfaily (1737-1814) becomes a courtesan and one of the many mistresses of the French King Louis XV when still very young. She poses for this painting when only fourteen, at the request of the king himself. The divine clouds in the mythological nudes that preceded this work, have here been replaced by plush pillows and a backdrop of silky sensuous sheets. The whole tableau -- even the folding of the linen -- exudes lust.
Boucher had painted a very similar scene seven years earlier. For that work his wife was model. The buttocks are heavier, more Rubenesque, but the work oozes with smooth sensuality. The enlightened philosopher Denis Diderot considered the work indecent and in a famous passage he reproached Boucher having 'prostituted' his own wife. But he is an unreliable narrator: Diderot apparently disliked the frivolous painter. He even complained in his review of the Paris Salon of 1765 that "not a single blade of grass is to be found" in his landscapes.
- "I defy you to find a single blade of grass in any of his landscapes. And then there’s such a confusion of objects piled one on top of the other, so poorly disposed, so motley, that we’re dealing not so much with the pictures of a rational being as with the dreams of a madman." (tr. possibly John Goodman, see Diderot on Boucher and Greuze)
In other texts directed against the libertine painter, Diderot writes that Boucher spends his time "with prostitutes of the lowest kind: "I don’t know what to say about this man. Degradation of taste, color, composition, character, expression and drawing have kept pace with moral depravity. What can we expect this artist to throw onto the canvas? What he has in his imagination. And what can be in the imagination of a man who spends his life with prostitutes of the basest kind?" These are rather bold statements, given that many of these 'prostitutes of the basest kind' are not only Boucher's models, but also the mistresses of the king. The French king Louis XV was known for his personal brothel next to the royaln palace, the so-called Parc-aux-Cerfs (literally stag park), where the beautiful Marie-Louise O'Murphy also stayed.
In light of Diderot's own clandestine erotic novel Les bijoux indiscrets, a novel about talking cunts, this diatribe against Boucher sounds rather hypocritical. His later defence of sanctimonious faux-prudish works of Jean-Baptiste Greuze put his statements in an even more dubious light.
Boucher makes hundreds of paintings and thousands of nude studies. His biggest inspiration is Venus, Venus vulgaris. The Leda and the Swan (image) from 1740 attributed to him, shows a supine Leda on a couch, her legs spread, with a large phallic swan's neck closely inspecting the focal point of the painting, her clearly visible genitals. Boucher will paint a much tamer version of the theme a few years later. Of the explicit version we can say with almost certainty that it always hung behind curtains and was shown only to a chosen few.
As always, the most exciting paintings are the most clandestine ones. Boucher also produces a series of six paintings for the boudoir of Madame de Pompadour, many years the mistress of King Louis XV. The works were lost in the fire of the Tuileries Palace of 1871 and are now only found in photographic reproductions. Two paintings show copulating couples, the other four are different scenes: a girl buying a winged phallus from a man who plays with her vulva, a man who takes a naked woman from behind, a man who is about to make love to a partially undressed woman while kissing her bare breasts, and finally a dressed couple that frolicking, the hand of the girl on the boy's erection. Too bad they are lost. We show you a one black black and white photograph of the series. (Image)
A number of Boucher's favourite paintings offer us a glimpse of women in the midst of the hygiene of their most intimate parts. The fashion of depicting women in that pose makes its first appearance with Dutch painter Jan Steen, Boucher makes his contribution to the genre with no less than three works, ("La jupe relevée," the raised skirt), ("La toilette intime", the intimate toilet) and an untitled one . Boucher has a taste for these kinds of intimate interior canvases. Once, in a letter to a fellow painter he noted that nature is "too green and badly lit." That's probably why Diderot didn't find a single blade of grass in his oeuvre.