François Boucher - Resting Girl (1751)Image: Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud François Boucher - Resting Girl (1751)
Image: Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

Lying on her stomach, her legs playfully spread, Boucher's subject wears nothing but a delicate blue ribbon in her blond hair. She is not fazed by her nudity, instead she lies confidently across the chaise longue strewn with beautiful sheets. Deep in thought as she plays with the ribbon, the painting has a sense of voyeurism as the subject looks away from the viewer and to something outside the canvas.

The model for Boucher's piece was Marie-Louise O’Murphy. Born in 1737 the daughter of Irish immigrants, O'Murphy worked as a seamstress in Paris. After meeting Boucher in 1751, Marie-Louise was employed by the artist to model for him. She later became the mistress of Louis XV.

Marie-Louise sat - or rather lay - for Boucher at the age of 14. Boucher called her Casanova, referring to the memoirs of Venetian women's theologian Giacomo Casanova, as when the painter first lay eyes on Marie-Louise a sudden spontaneity came about to paint her.

Boucher created two versions of the sumptuous piece. Today, one is in the Alte Pinakothek collection in Munich, whilst the other is thought to have been purchased from Boucher himself by the brother of Marquise de Pompadour's, who was the official chief mistress of Louis XV.

François Boucher (1703-1770)Left: The Toilet of Venus, 1751Right: Diana in the Bath, 1742 François Boucher (1703-1770)
Left: The Toilet of Venus, 1751
Right: Diana in the Bath, 1742

From humble beginnings, François Boucher was born in Paris, the son of a draftsman who decorated furniture and decorative arts. Boucher was taught by the painter François Lemoyne, whose most notable works include murals in the Palace of Versailles. In 1723, Boucher was presented with the Grand Prix de Rome by the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. He spent four years studying in Italy, where he was influenced by the masters of the Italian late Renaissance painters Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

Left: Gustaf Lundberg - Portrait of the painter François Boucher, 1741Right: Giacomo Casanova, Portrait of his brother Francesco, ca. 1750-55 Left: Gustaf Lundberg - Portrait of the painter François Boucher, 1741
Right: Giacomo Casanova, Portrait of his brother Francesco, ca. 1750-55

After returning to France, he worked in various fields. He designed works for the Gobelins Manufactory in Beauvais and the Porcelain Manufactory in Sèvres, was decorator at the Opera and in later years Principal of the Royal Academy.

Boucher's mastery undoubtedly lay in painting flesh and rich fabrics such as silk. In 1742 he was appointed as the court painter. He received special support from the Marquise de Pompadour who sat for him multiple times.

François Boucher became the most sought-after painter of the mid-18th century. His works were sending ripples through the art world not only in France, but across Europe.

Back to Boucher's painting of Marie-Louise. The artist was not the first in art history to elevate the nude female form, so why are his works still so important today? The reason lies in his desire behind painting his works and how he presented them to the world. Boucher painted his models for their aesthetic beauty and wanted to show them to the world for all their glory, almost on a silver platter, as if to say 'look how beautiful these women are.'

Left: François Boucher - Madame de Pompadour, 1756Right: Maurice Quentin de La Tour - Louis XV, 1748 Left: François Boucher - Madame de Pompadour, 1756
Right: Maurice Quentin de La Tour - Louis XV, 1748

And catch somebody's eye he did. When the French King Louis XV saw the painting of Marie-Louise he wanted to meet her. His chief mistress, Madame de Pompadour, Maitresse-en-titre, would encourage the king to have affairs, ensuring she introduced him to the women he wanted to meet.

For two years, Marie-Louise was Louis XV's mistress, she even bore him a daughter. Marie-Louise later married into aristocracy and disappeared from Versailles.

François Boucher - Resting Girl (1752)Image: Munich, Alte Pinakothek François Boucher - Resting Girl (1752)
Image: Munich, Alte Pinakothek

In 1752, Boucher painted Marie-Loise again, copying his own work, albeit a few changes. He chose a more muted palette and painted an Oriental incense burner in the lower left corner instead of an open book.

After Marie-Louise's first husband died early, she married three more times. She died in Paris in 1814 at the age of 77.

rançois Boucher - L'Odalisque (1745-49)Image: Paris, Musée du Louvre François Boucher - L'Odalisque (1745-49)
Image: Paris, Musée du Louvre

A few years before Boucher met Marie-Louise O'Murphy, he painted a very similar picture entitled L'Odesique. An odalisque was the concubine of the Ottoman sultan, who in Western Europe, like everything that happened in the harem, supposedly, ignited the imagination of many artists.

It is thought that this piece could be a representation of Boucher's own wife, Jeanne Buseau.

As one of the most prolific artists of his period, Boucher was responsible for being part of the development of the mature Rococo style. From porcelain to tapestry, his talents knew no end, which is perhaps why today he is so associated with the style. As well as his enchanting nudes, he reinvented the pastoral scence in art, reimagining shepherd and shepherdesses draped in silk in erotic poses.

Art critic and philosopher Denis Diderot wrote of Boucher in his review of the 1761 Salon, ''Cet homme a tout—excepté la vérité'' (That man is capable of everything—except the truth.)

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