François Boucher, ‘A reclining female nude (recto and verso)’, Christie's Old Masters

This drawing 'of exquisite grace and charm' (Laing, op. cit.), while a fully finished drawing in its own right, relates to an overdoor painting by Boucher, Venus feeding Cupid with nectar, one of a series originally commissioned by the duchesse de Mazarin for the Hôtel Mazarin, Paris, circa 1736-37. The painting is known now only through a drawing by Boucher which places the composition in a shaped cartouche (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum; Bjurström, op. cit., no. 850), and engravings by Basan and Mme Dupont (P. Jean-Richard, François Boucher: gravures et dessins provenant du Cabinet des dessins et de la Collection Edmond de Rothschild au Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1978, nos. 275 and 944). The verso of the drawing shows a slighter sketch of the figure in identical position but with a faint study of Cupid and of the vase with which Venus feeds him with nectar.

Two paintings from the commission are extant, now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, op. cit., I, nos. 151-2). Boucher may have used the drawing and the Mazarin overdoor compositions as the basis for other works as well, such as another version now lost of Venus feeding Cupid with nectar and The Education of Cupid for the wine merchant Salomon-Pierre Prousteau.

This drawing, undoubtedly sketched from life, is one of Boucher's earliest known female nude drawings, a subject which is indelibly associated with the artist's work. According to Alastair Laing (op. cit.), 'This sheet is the perfect exemplification of Boucher's ability to make a drawing that is both a genuine study for a painting and a work of art in its own right'. He then notes: 'One of the most satisfying things about it is the unerring way in which the nude occupies the diagonal of the paper: almost - but not quite - touching its edges with her head and feet, and with one of her outstretched hands. Furthermore, a body that might have had a slightly alienating perfection, if executed with the same idealizing grace throughout, is humanized by the curving shorthand treatment of the model's hands, and by her rather misshapen little toes, with the spatulate big toe so characteristic of Boucher's delineations of feet.'

Until its appearance in the 1975 sale, this drawing was known only through its counterproof, formerly in the David Daniels Collection and included in the present sale (see lot 15).

We thank Alastair Laing for his kind help in cataloguing this lot.

Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, European drawings from Canadian collections, 1500-1900, 1976, no. 19.
New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen, François Boucher: His Circle and Influence, 1987, no. 18.
New York, The Frick Collection, Watteau and his world, 1999, no. 51.
New York, The Frick Collection and Fort Worth, Kimbell Museum, The drawings of François Boucher, 2003, no. 27.

J.S. Herbert, ed., Christie's Review of the Season, 1975, p. 86, illus.

A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, François Boucher, Fribourg, 1976, I, p. 367, no. 251/3, fig. 757.

P. Bjurström, French Drawings, Eighteenth Century: Drawings in Swedish Public Collections, 4, Stockholm, 1986, under no. 850.

Anthony Freire Marreco, Esq.; Christie's, London, 8 July 1975, lot 82. with Charles E. Slatkin Galleries, New York.

About François Boucher

In 1765, François Boucher was awarded the two highest honors among the French arts establishment—appointed as first painter to the king and head of The Royal Academy. Boucher was one of the most celebrated decorative artists of the 18th century, known for formulating and championing the style of Rococo through revival of the idealized, pastoral landscape. Born in France, Boucher moved to Italy in 1728 where was immersed in the Italian countryside and the study of Baroque, 17th-century Dutch landscape painters, and 18th-century Venetian works. Upon return to Paris, he began producing large-scale mythological paintings, combining his early reference points in a playful, lighthearted way. Boucher pictured a landscape filled with shepherdesses and classical divinities, combining the traditional innocence of rural pastoral views with his decorative allegories, erotic scenes, and voluptuous forms.

French, 1703 - 1770 , Paris, France, based in Paris, France

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