One of the provinces of Rococo. China dreamed of François Boucher
Conference visit to the Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon.
The Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon, which has preserved for ten centuries the ten projects of François Boucher (1703-1770) carried out in 1742 for the Beauvais manufacture, presents an ambitious exhibition, made up of XNUMX national loans and International.
If François Boucher collected works from the Far East throughout his life, his half-century-long artistic production only knew a taste for Chinese subjects (paintings, drawings, engravings) only from 1735 to 1745.
The exhibition opens with a remarkable Beauvais tapestry The Prince's Audience, commissioned by the Duke of Maine (1670-1736), legitimized son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan around 1690. The continuation of The History of the Emperor of China (whose first weaving comprising gold threads is lost) knew a real success until the exhaustion of the cartons became illegible around 1727. This tapestry suite, is regarded as the first "chinoiserie" of large scale with the Trianon of porcelain. It does not relate events but describes the occupations of the sovereign as reported by the Jesuits in their travel accounts. The tapestry presented, from the Louvre collections, was the centerpiece of the suite, the most successful and we know no less than twenty-five copies. Sitting on a throne decorated with peacock feathers (which only he was allowed to wear like the amber necklace encircling his neck), the emperor received four figures prostrate before him. The scene is inspired by Nieuhoff's account of the journey of the Dutch ambassadors and borrows details from him: the presence of the elephant, the throne of gold and precious stones, the latter's arms supports which figure two dragons, etc.
Since the beginning of the 17thnd s., European companies from the East Indies imported porcelain, lacquerware, wallpaper, etc. From the end of the century, it was the merchants who offered wealthy customers a range of exotic objects including lacquer screens. If the preference of amateurs goes to Japanese lacquers, the large Chinese screens are appreciated. The example on display, of twelve leaves, is adorned with a so-called export decoration on a black background representing an inhabited landscape. The fact that it has come down to us intact is remarkable because most of them were dismantled, dismantled and cut up to be incorporated into paneling or furniture.
The address card published by Edme-François Gersaint in 1740 is the second collaboration between the merchant and François Boucher. The artist's engraving reflects the type of objects sold by Gersaint during this period. A Japanese lacquer cabinet, mounted on a carved wooden base from the Regency period, occupies the center of the image; it is surrounded by boxes, porcelain, accessories and natural curiosities. A nest egg sitting on the cabinet brings a touch of humor and could be a portrait of the merchant.
A Japanese portable cabinet resembling that of the engraving is displayed next to it. It is decorated with an aquatic landscape on its facade and flowering branches on the sides and inside, the latter presenting a set of small drawers. Very popular, these cabinets, often in pairs, decorated the rooms and were used to store curiosities or medals.
Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) had created a “Chinese” decor for the Château de la Muette in 1709. From this set, only two small paintings remain, the Viosseu, representing a hurdy-gurdy player listened to by a leaning woman and a garden scene with a young woman and a child. If the decor (especially the rocks, the treatment of the vegetation and the clear palette that evokes porcelain) evokes the Chinese tone, the characters have a very European character. This set was dismantled shortly after and was only known by engravings by Boucher.
François Boucher was also a great collector ofAsian. We know the composition of his collection by the catalog of the sale made after his death. Seven hundred and one objects were divided into three hundred and twenty lots. Porcelain occupies the most important place but there were lacquers, Chinese paintings and miniatures, ivories, silver curiosities, "Larre stones" (soapstone), bronzes and pagodas made of Indian paste ( raw clay statuettes painted with certain moving parts). Part of the exhibition illustrates what could be found in this collection which was for the artist a source of inspiration. Thus a statuette in "Larre stone" by Dongfang shuo, a Taoist deity, is included in a set of engravings by Boucher and is entitled Chinese botanist.
Boucher's paintings are full of objects (screens, porcelain, magots, etc.) evoking the infatuation of the wealthy classes for Asian. The “truited porcelain” potpourri (Kyōyaki-decorated stoneware from Kyōto) with a gilded bronze frame looks a lot like a pot-pourri that can be seen in several paintings. A pair of celadon porcelain vases (Qianlong-1736 - 1795) with gilt bronze mount with tritons is to be compared with lot N ° 807 from the Boucher sale.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) who was the official painter of the Beauvais factory, then that of the Gobelins, being overworked called François Boucher. Among the many projects provided by the latter, the Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon has paintings on canvas which served as models for The Chinese Wall Hanging woven in Beauvais (1742-1746). This hanging was ordered to replace that of The History of the Emperor of China whose boxes were too worn. In addition, Oudry took advantage of the craze for China which was developing at that time in Paris.
The interest of the exhibition is to relate these painted projects to the hangings themselves. Boucher proposed eight sketches to the salon of 1742, but only six were selected for the Chinese wall hanging. Note the inversion of the subjects on the tapestries compared to the sketches and some modifications made in the composition. The tapestries exhibited come from two sources, three belong to the Palazzo Reale in Turin and the other three belong to the Arman Deroyan Gallery and Maison Machault, the latter being in the arms of France. Five suites were ordered by Louis XV to offer diplomatic gifts, and this is how a suite was sent to Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) in 1766. The latest research shows that Boucher did not only create an amiable fantasy but that it was inspired by many sources, both Chinese decorative motifs and European prints which were the only images available describing China. Thus, the six tapestries illustrate Chinese hunting, Chinese Dance, Chinese Peach, The Meal of the Emperor of China, The Chinese Garden, The Chinese Fair, thus offering a varied theme that may appeal to various sponsors.
It should be noted that Boucher's sketches were painted "verve", without preparatory drawing, and that the artist uses a reduced palette: on a gray background, he brushes his subjects with only five colors (white, black, blue, red and yellow). The repentances, quite numerous, reveal changes in the composition of almost all the paintings.
The rest of the exhibition develops gallant China as François Boucher integrated it into his works. Some paintings illustrate the way in which the painter includes asiatica in his paintings.
In La Toilette, a screen with flower and bird motifs occupies the right background, a blue and white porcelain tea service is placed on a small table, a celadon incense burner mounted in gilded bronze stands on the fireplace, the fire screen is decorated with Chinese silk and a fan, perhaps in ivory, is at the feet of the young woman who ties her garter. In Woman on her daybed also known as Presumed portrait of Madame Boucher, we find the same tea service placed on a shelf as well as a porcelain nest. A Chinese screen occupies the right part of the work.
François Boucher also painted “chinoiseries” to decorate apartments such as La Marchande de Fleurs, Le Thé à la Chinoise or Le Chinois Galant. These last two, over-the-door, are in shades of blue and were probably created for the blue room of the Countess de Mailly (1710-1751) at the Château de Choisy in the years 1741-1743. Although the characters are quite westernized, the decor includes exotic vegetation, constructions in the form of pagodas and the painted rockery frame includes bamboos. To complete this set, two painted pieces of furniture from the blue room are also on display. The chest of drawers and the corner cupboard are decorated with Martin varnish with blue and white decor to imitate lacquers and evoke porcelain. Silver bronze is another particularity of this furniture (extremely rare because it is difficult to maintain) and the use of turquin blue marble which completes this perfect harmony designed by the mercer merchant Thomas-Joachim Hébert (1687-1773).
Boucher designed and engraved a large amount of chinoiserie, and some of these works will serve as models for other artists. The engravers François-Antoine Aveline (1718-1787) and Gabriel Huquier (1695-1772) will participate in the dissemination and the renown of the painter. Thus, Family in a boat with two hulls is taken up by both in engraving and reinterpreted on a tapestry of the royal Aubusson manufacture in the years 1755-1770.
Boucher's Chinese subjects quickly found an echo in the decorative arts. In porcelain, the influence of the artist very early crossed borders and Meissen bought from its publication, in 1742, the famous series of prints of Scenes of Chinese life for its sculptors. In France, the Vincennes factory also used Boucher's subjects from 1745-1746. Thus, a Vincennes saucer takes exactly an engraving after Boucher, Le jeu d'echets chinois, and a set of bottle buckets is decorated with monochrome scenes copied from the engravings of Huquier after Boucher. The Chinese inspiration derived from Boucher's works did not disappear after the relocation of the royal manufactory to Sèvres and even experienced a resurgence in popularity. The main faces of a pair of “girandole” pot-pourris from the Sèvres factory, dated 1761, are decorated with cartridges directly inspired by the work of Boucher engraved by Huquier.
If the recovery of Boucher's engravings in the furniture is rarer, a copy of a chest of drawers with three drawers in precious wood veneer, by Christophe Wolff (1720-1795), reproduces five prints.
The decorative aesthetics conceived by François Boucher enjoyed an extraordinary diffusion in Europe and played a determining role in the decorative arts long after the artist had stopped painting chinoiseries.