Thursday, September 10, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #5 - Shepherd's Idyll

Shepherd's Idyll, François Boucher, 1768, Oil on canvas, 94 1/2 x 93 1/2 in. (240 x 237.5 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

François Boucher's artwork is indicative of the mature phase of the Rococo movement and is sometimes thought of as "high rococo." He was born into a working class family, but he gained entrance into the Royal Academy and then had the opportunity to study at the French Academy in Rome. He eventually was categorized as a history painter within the Royal Academy, the highest level you could achieve. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame was being a favorite painter for Madame de Pompadour. He even used her likeness in some of the goddesses in mythological scenes he created.

He was particularly fond of a subcategory of history painting called "gallant mythologies" - scenes that depicted the loves of the gods of antiquity. He drew heavily from Watteau's idea of fête galante, but Boucher's style was full of fantasy. He composed his paintings with a theatrical bent.

Let's look at Shepherd's Idyll. This painting was made two years before his death, so it is part of his mature work. It is very large - on the scale of a history painting. But this is not a scene of action and drama, but a bucolic scene depicting a moment of leisure in the life of this shepherd. The people in the painting are all dressed simply, but they are not dressed in work clothes. The 3 women and the children form an adoring circle around the relaxed figure of the shepherd.

This painting is known as an idyll, which means a charming, bucolic scene of rural life. The people are idealized, young, beautiful, living together in harmony. Though the shepherd is a working class man, it appears his life is carefree and not so involved with working! The wealthy class wanted to fantasize that the working class did not suffer excess toil, so had them portrayed as their own lives were - free of worry and hard work.

Boucher's palette was comprised of pastel tones and bright whites. He had a very painterly style - loose and free. He painted to satisfy the tastes of his clientele. He catered to the decorative style that the aristocracy craved. The salons of Paris were held by aristocratic women. They were sophisticated and loved a beautiful environment. This image closes out the Rococo period and is the epitome of the style - luxury, frivolity, soft colors, relaxation!

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