Francois Boucher

Francois Boucher

Francois Boucher was born in Paris on September, 29, 1703. His father, Nicolas Boucher was an artist, who made his living producing prints and patterns for embroidery. From the childhood Francois helped him in the workshop.

Father, discovering his son had a talent, sent him as an apprentice to Francois Lemoyene. There he spent several only several months and Boucher remembered of him with little warmth later. 17 years old he joined the studio of the engraver Jean-Francois Cars that let him to earn money independently and became acquainted with high-ranking clients of his master.

In 1722 Francois Boucher was committed to illustrate a new edition of “French history” by Gabriel Daniel. While working in 1722-1723 over creating a series of etchings for “Recueil Julienne” (“Julienne’s collection”), where all pieces of Jean-Antoine Watteau were reproduced, the artist got familiarized with the legacy of his predecessor and absorbed some of his compositional methods.

Visit to Italy

The same year, 1723, Francois won in the he received an academic competition Grand Prix de Rome with his mythological painting “Evilmérodach, son and successor of Nabuchodonosor, unfetters a prisoner Joachim”. This victory was meant to give him an opportunity to study in Rome, but there was no vacant place in the Italian academy at that time, so he visited the Apennines only in 1727.

In Rome he was impressed by paintings of Pietro da Cortona and Giovanni Lanfranco. Doubtlessly, Boucher also admired venetian tradition of monumental painting, though it’s clear if he visited Venice itself, but he later started collecting drawings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Landscape like “View of Tivoli” and “View of Farnese gardens” were executed on the base of impression from tour around Italy. They demonstrate and outstanding decorative talent of the artist, who was able to build compositions using rhythmic of the unit and characteristic detail.

The flourishing years

Coming back from Italy in 1731, Francois Boucher was almost immediately became a candidate for the acceptance to the Royal academy of Fine Arts in the most prestigious department of historical painting and in 1734 he was appointed as its member for the canvas “Rinaldo and Armida ”. First years after the travel were dedicated mainly to drawing, copying and engraving.

In 1733 he got married to the 17-years old beauty Marie Jeanne Buzeau, who was a model for many of the “nymphs” of Boucher. A little bit later he started teaching in the Academy, first – as an assistant (since 1735), then – as a professor (since 1737). Despite this, he was always During all this time he was down on his uppers.

It was the high point of his artistic career. He renders mythological and biblical episodes, pastorals, interior scenes, created setting for the “Perseus” (1746) ballet and opera-ballet “Gallant India” (1735), and designs for the royal gobelins and porcelain manufactories.

In 1730s-1740s Francois received big official commissions for painting some rooms of the Versailles – the Queen’s room (allegorical compositions of Virtues), King’s Petite Galerie (“Tiger Hunt” and “Crocodile Hunt”), Dauphin’s apartments (“Vulcan Presenting Venus with Arms for Aeneas”) and others. There he revealed his keen fantasy, making symbolic pieces piquant and entertaining – features mostly praised in Rococo epoch. That allowed the painter to win the favor of one of the most influential women of France Madame de Pompadour, who was the official chief mistress of Louis XV. He gave her lessons of drawing an etching and decorated some of her residences (particularly chateaux of Bellevue and Crecy).
For six years (1742-1748) he occupied the position of decorator in Paris Opera and later (in 1755, according to the other data – 1757) became the head of the Royal Gobelins Manufactory.

Last years

Since 1760 Francois Boucher was gradually losing his popularity. Towards the end of his life, Francois Boucher’s taste of coloring started failing him. The painter excessively applied local colors, which turned his pictures into something more carpet-like. Gradually a certain stamp was shaped up, as clients demanded him to replicate his pieces.
In 1761 he was prompted rector and in 1765 – director of the Royal Academy of Fine arts. Several months before his death the artist was chosen as an honored member of Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.

He died on 30 May 1770 in Paris.

Landscapes and pastorals

Views of the countryside of Beauvais and Paris were created specially for the tapestries. So, these easel paintings could be used as a background for any pastoral scene. Direct observation of real landscapes is mixed in them with decorative rendering of the composition, based on the principle of theatrical scene-setting: avant-scene, coulisses and lovely-looking peasants, who’re resting or engaged in love-affairs (“The Little Farm Maid”, “The Lovely Kitchen Maid” or “Landscape with a Hermit”, for instance).
Such inclination of idealistic scenes of nature and quite rural life is explained by common in the Enlightenment age idea of the advantages of “natural state” of human being, staying close to nature.

Mythological and biblical scenes

Ancient legends and myths also gave ground for elaborating of Boucher’s talent. He usually depicted them with imagined antique buildings. Paintings were freely composed, defined by liberate manner and intensive silvery coloring, which revealed Francois’ animation with Giovanni Tiepolo’s oeuvre (like in “Aurora And Cephalus”). The master also liked using spectacular techniques, applying paint sometimes locally, sometimes in delicate gradation, sometimes with reach glazing (so the surface looked like a porcelain) or liquid brushstrokes. He experimented with various stylistics.

His favorite subject was histories about Jupiter: the artist usually depicted him surrounded by sensitive nymphs, naiads and putties (“Jupiter In the Guise of Diana and the Nymph Callisto”, “The Toilet of Venus”).

Such images of careless, full of passion, world were popular among aristocrats, but received also rather harsh criticism from rational-orientated thinkers, like Denis Dideroit, who considered paintings of Francois Boucher estranged for “real taste, to the truth, to just ideas, and to the seriousness of art”.

His interpretation of biblical stories was closer to academic traditions; absences of inner tension and dramatism in them was compensated with lavishness and brightness of visual means, what we see in “The Sacrifice of Gideon” and “Joseph Presenting His Father and Brothers to the Pharaoh”.

Genre scenes

In genre scenes the painter not only masterly represented details of boudoirs, clothing of personages – ladies, preoccupied with their toilet and talking to their maidens, mothers and governesses with kids, but manages to make them engaging, contagious. Brilliant samples of genre canvases are “Lady Fastening Her Garter” and “Breakfast”.


Francois Boucher wasn’t a portraitist, but often used to depict his patron Madame Pompadour. Several portraits of this personality is known, all of them in silvery-olive tints, with the model posing in the interiors of her residences. They show tendency of the painter to simplification of variety of colors, that was amplified with delicacy of hue combinations. In Salon of 1765 Diderot (though we know him for criticism towards Boucher) wrote that “his color was forthright and true; his composition was sound, yet full of verve; his handling was broad and grand”. Idealization and impressiveness typical of representative portrait is usually mixed with intimate, personal feelings, so rocaille by their character.
In paintings of Madame de Pompadour Francois achieved portrayal resemblance, but generally in his pictures, like “female heads” he followed the ideal of beauty, with dollish faces, almond-shaped eyes, little noses and heart-shaped lips. Boucher is also famous for his female nudes, frivolous and sensuous. Their popularity was absolutely logical in the world, where women started reigning. The classic example of the painter’s nudes is “Portrait of Marie-Louis O’Murphy” (also known as “Nude on a Sofa”).


Being a skillful draughtsman, Francois Boucher worked not only with pastel, but with gouache as well; liked combining black and white chalk with sanguine – such drawing “in three pencils” on toned brown paper gave exquisite color effects. For gobelins manufacture he created more than 40 sketches for six series of tapestries (“The rural festivals”, “The Story of Psyche”, “Chinese tapestries”, “The Loves of the Gods” and others). Apart from this, his designs were used for producing porcelain ware.


Among pupils of Francois the following two should be mentioned – Jean Baptiste Deshays and Pierre Antoine Boudouin, both of whom were married on daughters of Boucher and predeceased their father-in-law.Boucher’s most talented apprentice was Jean-Honore Fragonard, who inherited his elegance, dynamism of composition, refined coloring, though tried to express characters and situations with more emotional depths.

The art of Francois Boucher is evaluated differently. Some specialists admire artistic quality of his creations, others accentuate on their “sugariness” that was aimed to satisfy unideal bourgeois taste. And we have to admit, this appraisal isn’t groundless. This appraisal Anyway, he was an influential personality in French art of the 18th cent., who played a key role in forming of rococo style.