The Artist Francois Boucher

Closely associated with the Rococo movement, the French artist Francois Boucher was born in Paris in 1703. Art historians often credit him as the most famous decorative artist of the eighteenth century. His paintings represent an idyllic age and some of his illustrious patrons included King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour (mistress of Louis XV). A prolific artist, Boucher created art in nearly every genre incorporating most mediums of the day. One of his most famous pupils was the artist Jean-Honore Fragonard.

The son of a lacemaker, Boucher made a living as a printmaker before his immense talent catapulted him into a career as an artist. At the age of twenty, Boucher won the prestigious Grand Prix de Rome. A few years later, he used funds from the sales of his etchings to finance his studies in Rome. Boucher became a member of the Academie de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1731 and a member of its renowned faculty in 1734. His illustrious work would see him rise in the Academie to eventually become its director as well as Premier Peintre du Roi (First Painter to the King) in 1765.

Boucher’s work, perhaps more than any other artist, defined the Rococo movement—especially his landscapes. Boucher masterfully painted silken-garbed shepherds and shepherdesses frolicking in idealized outdoor settings. His erotically charged paintings were popular with the wealthy and royal classes of France. An ingenious marketer, Boucher sold many of his designs to the makers of anything from porcelain to decorative tapestry. His use of blue and pink became hallmark colors of the Rococo style.

Some of Boucher’s most celebrated paintings include his portraits of Madame de Pompadour such as Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour (1759) which symbolize the Rococo style. Boucher often painted mythical and classical scenes as well. His paintings are frequently infused with classical images like carved cherubs in sensual gardens. Boucher was often asked by his illustrious clientele to paint licentious portraits of odalisques, beautiful female slaves of the Ottoman Turks. Later in his career Boucher was highly criticized for these paintings that were, nevertheless, extremely popular.

Some of Boucher’s most celebrated works include Hercules and Omphale (1735), Apollo Revealing his Divinity to the Shepherdess Isse (1750), Venus and Cupid (1769), Girl Resting or Marie-Louise O’Murphy (1752), and The Toilet of Venus (1751). His redefinition of the pastoral and his immense body of work make him one of France’s greatest artists. Although the highly decorative Rococo style would eventually fall out of favor, Boucher was a premier artist of his century. He died in 1770 before the French Revolution would change the landscape of his country and the art world as well.