François Boucher

François Boucher
Born Sep. 29, 1703
Paris, Kingdom of France
Died May 30, 1770 (at age 66)
Paris, Kingdom of France
Nationality French
Field Painting
Works View Complete Works

The dominant artistic taste of the 18th Century can represented by the work of just one artist, that of the French painter François Boucher. While this might be an overstatement, Boucher was the undisputed master of the Rococo style. Think of aristocratic women in the French royal court wearing sumptuous flowing gowns of silk and lace, surrounded by flowers and pudgy naked cherub-children — then you’ll get the idea of what Boucher’s work represents.

François Boucher was born in 1703 near the beginning of a century his name would become associated with for the rest of history, at least in terms of European art. He is often referred to as a “decorative artist” because his paintings were both inspired and influenced the interiors designs of the fabulous palaces of super-wealthy, French upper-crust society.

Rococo Dominance

Boucher is deeply associated with the Rococo style. Rococo is a florid, flowing, graceful style, which is not limited to painting, but also is associated with architecture, sculpture, music, opera, theater and more. In painting Rococo style favors use of pastel colors, whites, and golds. Clothing is flowing and billowed; human bodies are fair-skinned and chubby; faces are rosy; hair is golden curly and flowing, and people often appear reclined in natural surroundings that are paradisiacal.

Early Life

Boucher was the son of a lace designer. His natural artistic skill was apparent early, and he was apprenticed to an engraver at age 17. Within three years he had earned an extremely prestigious scholarship, the Grand Prix de Rome. This would allow him to study art in Rome with some of the greatest masters of the world, although he did not take up that opportunity until four years later.

When Boucher eventually did return from his study of art in Italy he was given a position at the Académie de peinture et de sculpture, where he could work as a painter, and also as a teacher of art. This position led directly to a position as “First Painter of the King” – although this latter honor did not occur until 1965 when Boucher was 63 years old.

Prolific and Idyllic

But in his decades as one of the greatest working artists in France (and all of Europe) Boucher produced an enormous body of work — his paintings were destined to define an entire age.

Boucher’s huge canvases often depict idyllic, natural scenes that are serene. It’s as if all of his subjects were rich, French, but living in the proverbial Garden of Eden. Clearly, however, Boucher had an edge. That is, while his scenes were idyllic, they were not always innocent. Many of his paintings are erotic, suggestive and display passionate interactions between men and women, and even women and other women. This work eventually landed him in hot water with important people who felt that Boucher’s worked bordered on – or was – too suggestive.

Commissions to create portrait work for high-powered aristocrats were an important part of Boucher’s life work. These assignments paid well, and his ability to capture the humanity and essence of his subjects should be considered second to none.

Powerful Patron and Commercialism

His primary patron was Madame de Pompadour, who was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson. She was the “chief mistress” of King Louis XV, but she was also enormously influential across a vast array of cultural life in 18th Century France. Here name is synonymous with that of François Boucher in the development of the Rococo style.

Like many artists, Boucher also worked as a creator of tapestries, and as a designer of theater costumes and stage sets. Here again, his work had a major impact on the cultural world. His tapestries and stage designs were considered an integral part of the opera itself.

Boucher’s output was enormous. He is believed to have produced more than 10,000 works. One of the reasons Boucher became so influential throughout Europe is that his drawings were very often engraved and reproduced widely. He was among the first artists to significantly exploit the commercial potential of selling reproductions of art.

After Death Influence

Not long after Boucher’s death in 1770, the art world turned on him, and with a vengeance. When the Neo-classical movement took hold, François Boucher became a target of contempt. The art world was eager to abandon the Rococo style and everything it represented, which included the royal and aristocratic elites who “ate cake” while the majority of French citizens lived in abject poverty.

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