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François Boucher

French Painter, Draughtsman and Etcher

François Boucher Photo
Movement: The Rococo

Born: September 29, 1703 - Paris, France

Died: May 30, 1770 - Paris, France

"Nature is too green, and poorly lit."

Summary of François Boucher

As Paris teetered on the edge of revolution, King Louis XV and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, eagerly supported Boucher's visions of an idealistic world. His celebration of noble grace and elegance, along with his flirtatious and eroticized explorations of beauty decorated the refined spaces of aristocratic life. At the same time, his sensuous portraits captured the emergence of Enlightenment philosophy and the aristocratic Salons that nurtured these thinkers. Boucher's work is a seminal example of a more complex Rococo style, full of contradictions that combine tradition and beauty with innovation.

Key Ideas

The soft pastels, beautiful surfaces, and sensual bodies of Boucher's paintings were highly prized by the French aristocracy. Even his commissioned portraits were commonly idealized, often transformed into allegorical treatments or mythological heroes and heroines. His work was the height of fashion during the waning years of the Ancien Regime and the reign of Louis XV and Louis XVI.
As aristocrats gained independence from the monarchy, following the death of the absolutist Louis XIV, they created a new market for Rococo painting. Free from the weighty theological and historical themes dictated by the authoritarian Baroque style that had dominated the previous generation and had been limited by the expectations of the church and the state, Boucher was free to explore whimsical, intimate, exotic and pastoral themes.
Where the Baroque style intended to impress the viewer with grandiosity and drama, the Rococo was much more intimate and playful - which was where Boucher triumphed. The Rococo replaced the classical lines and severity of Baroque design with asymmetrical and organic imagery that often drew from an idealized concept of nature.
As Enlightenment critics such as Denis Diderot gained influence, and as the excesses of court society drew increased scrutiny, Boucher represented the degeneracy of the aristocracy. As the quintessential Rococo artist, Boucher's work was quickly rejected as superficial and decorative; it was similarly dismissed in historical accounts as a frivolous and short-lived fashion. The virtuosity of his technique and its attention to visual enjoyment preserved Boucher's legacy among artists, but made him suspect to historians and theorists; only in the last few decades have scholars reconsidered these pejorative labels to recover more nuanced ideas - and even Enlightenment principles in his oeuvre.
François Boucher Photo

The son of a draftsman, painter and embroiderer, François Boucher was of humble yet artistic origins. His earliest training came with his father in Paris until his work was noticed by the respected painter François Lemoyne. Although the 17-year-old Boucher only remained under Lemoyne's tutelage for a few short months before going to work for the publisher Jean-François Cars, he quickly absorbed the academic style of his first master. Boucher's skill as both a painter and engraver was admired by the highly-respected collector and great patron of the arts, Jean de Jullienne, who entrusted the young artist with the task of engraving the drawings of Antoine Watteau. Despite not having formal training at the Académie, Boucher won the Prix de Rome, the Académie's highest honor, at only age 20.

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