Throughout his career, but notably after his return to Paris from his extended study in Italy, Boucher made small allegorical canvases depicting putti or cupids at play. Such paintings find their origins in the Renaissance in the works of masters such as Titian (The Venus Worship in the Prado, Madrid) and Parmigianino, which themselves referred consciously to similar sculpted bas-reliefs from Roman antiquity. In the 17th century, Poussin revived the genre and Claude Gillot, Antoine Watteau and François Lemoyne (Boucher's teacher) carried it to Paris in the early 18th century.
The present canvas dates from the early 1730s, almost certainly shortly after Boucher's return from Italy. It is an autograph version -- possibly reduced at top -- of one of a set of four putti paintings made for his first important Parisian patron, the obscure lawyer François Derbais. Boucher had painted his first large-scale masterpieces in the early 1730s for the billiard room in Derbais's townhouse on the rue Poissonnière: a suite of mythological compositions including the Rape of Europa and Mercury confiding the Infant Bacchus to the Nymphs of Nyssa (now in the Wallace Collection, London), Venus requesting Arms for Aeneas (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and Aurora and Cephalus (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy), and the Birth of Venus (Romanian Embassy, Paris). Around the same time, he made four decorations of frolicking putti representing the Seasons for Derbais's staircase: L'Amour Oiseleur (private collection), L'Amour Nageur (an autograph version, perhaps the original, is in the James de Rothschild collection, Waddesdon Manor), L'Amour Vendangeur (sold Christie's, New York, 6 April 2006, lot 331), and L'Amour Moissonneur (in the Blaffer Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). All four were engraved and identified as belonging to Derbais.
This charming picture associates Love (in the guise of a Cupid who has collapsed on a haystack, exhausted from his labors) with the annual grain harvest, and would therefore have served to represent Summer in the set of the seasonal allegories. The present painting is signed by Boucher and relates to Bernard Lépicié's engraving of Derbais's L'Amour moissonneur ('Love the Harvester'), which the printmaker presented to the Academy in June 1734 as part of his morceaux de réception (and which was announced in the Mercure in October of that year).
We are grateful to Alastair Laing for his help in the cataloguing of this lot.
Signature: Signed 'f boucher -' (lower center)
London, Guildhall, Corporation of London Art Gallery, Loan Collection of Pictures by Painters of the French School, 1898, no. 85.
H. Voss, 'François Boucher's early development', Burlington Magazine, 95, March 1953, p. 89, fig. 56.
A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne, 1976, I, pp. 197-198, no. 63, fig. 296.
P. Jean-Richard, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins... Ecole Française, I, L'Oeuvre gravé de François Boucher dans la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, 1978, under no. 1378, p. 331.
A. Ananoff and D. Wildenstein, L'Opera Completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980, p. 90, no. 63, illustrated.
M. Roland Michel, Oeuvre de Jeunesse de Watteau à Ingres, Paris Galerie Cailleux, 1985, under no. 3.
A. Laing, François Boucher, 1703-1770, exhibition catalogue, New York, Detroit, Paris, 1986-1987, p. 128, under no. 15.
R. Temperini, French Painting of the Ancien Régime, Houston, 1996, p. 183.
PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
(Possibly) Marquis de Cypierre's sale, 10 March ff. 1845, lot 89 as by Natoire, but the description corresponds to this composition, not to the engraved one by Natoire: 'La Moisson. Quatre figures d'Amours. Un des Amours est couché sur une gerbe, un autre le chatouille avec une paille. Un troisième tient une serpe.' (405 francs).
Alfred de Rothschild, Seamon Place, London, and by descent to Almina, Countess of Carnarvon; Christie's, London, 22 May 1925, lot 59, to Sabin.
with Frank Sabin, London.
Contini-Bonacossi, Florence, 1953.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 6 July 2006, lot 51 (£200,000).
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