La Tendre Pastorale' (or simply Pastorale as it was called in a contemporary engraving) is a critical transitional work in the development of the painted pastoral, a genre invented by Boucher. The young artist had probably begun painting 'bambochades' even before he went to Italy in 1728, but certainly by the time of his return to Paris in the early 1730s he had made himself a specialist in the field. 'Bambochade' was the name his contemporaries gave to small genre scenes in the style of 17th-century Dutch painters like Pieter van Laer (1599-1642) and Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651), in which peasants in landscapes herd animals, collect well-water, go to market, and other everyday activities. Boucher seems to have found a ready market for these colorful rural scenes, which he set in overgrown Italianate landscapes and enlivened with painterly brushwork derived from the example of Benedetto Castiglione (1616-1670), his favorite painter. 'La vie champêtre' (Belton House, Lancashire) and 'La fontaine' (J.B. Speed Museum, Louisville) are among the best of these 'tableaux précieux à la manière des Flamands' that Boucher is said to have painted in Rome (according to Denis-Pierre Papillon de la Ferté).
'La Tendre Pastorale' can be situated within this genre but represents a further extension of it. The sun-dappled rural landscape that is almost riotous with vegetation, the comical sheep, sloe-eyed cows and beautifully observed earthenware jugs and copper pots -- reminiscent of the still life paintings of Willem Kalf (1622-1693) -- appear in most of Boucher's 'bambochades'. New are the heroically scaled figures and their emotional, engaged relationship. In previous genre scenes of this type, the human figures were merely staffage with no more animation or inner life than Boucher had given to the barnyard animals that surrounded them. In 'La Tendre Pastorale' the shepherd wooing his shepherdess takes center stage, and the figures' expressions and gestures -- his ardor, her reticence -- make them protagonists in a romantic comedy. It is the intimation of a sentimental narrative that transforms 'La Tendre Pastorale' from a 'bambochade' into one of the earliest of the pastorals that by the late 1740s would come to dominate Boucher's production. By that time, comedies of love among country folk staged by the playwright Charles-Simon Favart (1710-1792) at the Théâtre de la Foire in Paris would provide Boucher with his principal inspiration -- pantomimes such as the popular Les Vendanges de Tempé (1745) which inspired Boucher's 'Pensent-ils au Raison?' (1747; The Art Institute of Chicago). Nevertheless, the taste for silk-clad rustic romance, which would become a hallmark of the 'style Boucher', can be found in embryonic form in the present painting.
A terminus ante quem for 'La Tendre Pastorale' is provided by Gabriel Huquier's engraving of the painting, the publication of which was announced in the Mercure de France, first in January 1736 and again in April of the same year. Huquier's print repeats the painting meticulously, but in reverse and framed within a rococo arabesque surround. It is possible that when etching the plate, Huquier worked from Boucher's finished, black chalk study for the complete composition (Kunsthalle, Hamburg), rather than the painting itself. Several preparatory figure studies for the painting survive. A superb sketch in black and white chalks on blue paper for the seated shepherd, once belonging to Sir Joshua Reynolds, was with Galerie Cailleux, Paris, in the 1960s. A drawing in black and red chalks in the Louvre of a boy standing behind a mule was used - minus the boy - as the model for the laden mule on the right side of the painting. There is also a red chalk sketch for the foreground cow (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), that was acquired from Boucher around 1740 by Count Tessin, and which had earlier been employed in Boucher's Capriccio View of the Farnese Gardens (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The latter painting is signed and dated 1734 and it would appear, on the basis of style, that 'La Tendre Pastorale' was executed soon afterward.
Huquier's engraving proved popular and was used shortly thereafter as the design for a Sèvres vase hollandois in a garniture of three flower pots, produced in 1762 (an example is in the Wallace Collection, London). A number of painted copies of the composition -- generally deriving from the print -- are also known, including one in reverse in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, that is attributed to Charles Eisen (1720-1778).
A fine, early version of La Tendre Pastorale, with variations, recently appeared at auction in Paris, and was included in the exhibition François Boucher: Fragments d'un Monde, at the GL Holtegaard in Holte, Denmark in 2012.
Signature: Signed 'F. Boucher' (lower left)
London, Art Gallery of the Corporation of London, Guildhall, A Loan Collection of Pictures, 1902, no. 42.
Glasgow, Art Gallery, 1902, no. 9.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1907, no. 126.
Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Old Master Paintings and Drawings from Colorado Collections, 1998, not numbered.
J.J. Foster, French Art from Watteau to Prud'hon, 1906, p.17, pl. XI.
A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813-1912, London, 1913, I, p. 90.
The Connoisseur, CXXXIII, no. 537, May 1954, p. 54.
H. Voss, 'Boucher's Early Development', The Burlington Magazine, Addenda, July 1954, p. 209, fig. 22.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, François Boucher, 1976, I, pp. 190-191 no. 54, fig. 274 and detail, p. 230, fig. 405.
P. Jean-Richard, Inventaire Général des Gravures, Ecole Française, I, L'Oeuvre Gravé de François Boucher dans la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, 1978, p. 271, under no. 1089.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'Opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, no. 54.
P. Bjurström, Drawings in Swedish Public Collections, 4, French Drawings, Eighteenth Century, Stockholm, 1982, under no. 832.
A. Laing, 'Boucher et la pastorale peinte', Revue de l'Art, no. 73, 1986, p. 62, note 34.
A. Laing, François Boucher 1703-1770, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Grand Palais, Paris, 1986-1987, pp. 69, 112, no. 9, note 96.
B.S. Jacoby, François Boucher's Early Development as a Draughtsman, 1720-1734, New York and London, 1986, p. 279, under no. III.B.14.
A. Laing, In Trust for the Nation: Paintings from National Trust Houses, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London, 1995-1996, p. 223, note 14.
PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF WILLIAM AND BERNADETTE BERGER
Possibly Jean-Baptiste Deshays; (†), sale, Paris, 23 March 1765, lot 128 'Berger avec sa Bergère, de 2 pieds et demi de haut, sur 2 pieds de long' (=32 x 25 1/2 in.).
Charles T.D. Crews, 41 Portman Square, London; (†), Christie's, London, 1 July 1915, lot 122 (240 gns. to Woodhouse).
Colonel Woodhouse, England.
with Leonard Koetser, London, 1954 (his advertisement in The Connoisseur, CXXXIII, no. 537, May 1954, p. 192, a detail of the shepherdess on the cover).
with David B. Findlay Galleries, New York, 1954, from whom purchased by a private collector and by descent within the family.
Minnie Meacham Carter; Christie's, New York, 15 May 1996, lot 90 ($574,500), where acquired by the present owner.
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.