Boucher’s Pastoral landscape with a shepherd and shepherdess (c.1730)

François Boucher is said to have invented the pastoral landscape or bambochade when he was quite young. In this one, once considered important enough to have been engraved, a young man and woman have an amorous meeting in an invented landscape watched over by three animals, one of whom seems to take a good look at us. His gaze is actually elsewhere as I will soon demonstrate but I'm getting ahead of myself. Sometimes compared to contemporary comedies of love, this type of scene is generally dismissed as light and frivolous, created mainly because such romantic encounters were popular among art buyers in Paris. Is there anything in it , though, that would contradict that view, that later artists might have known?

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Captions for image(s) above:

Boucher, Pastoral landscape with a shepherd and shepherdess (c. 1730) Oil on canvas. 83.8 × 66.7 cm. Private Collection.

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First of all, many of them may have noticed that Boucher's young man (top) not only bears close physical resemblance to the artist in his earlier self-portrait (bottom) but the angle of his torso and arms are similar too. The young lover is thus posed like a painter at his easel which makes the girl a stand-in for the canvas. She is "his painting". Note how even her neck and head are inclined like the tree that Boucher has "painted" in his self-portrait, its crest resembling her head and hair.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Boucher's Pastoral landscape with a shepherd and shepherdess (c. 1730)
Bottom: Detail of Boucher's Self-portrait in a studio (1720)

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There are other similarities. Her raised fingers, spaced apart, resemble the artist's paintbrushes facing the other direction while the rag commonly used in studios and hanging off the painter's chair resembles the white cloth hanging from what looks like the side of a well. Tiepolo used a well to denote the inspiration emerging from his ink-pot; and Boucher here did likewise from his paint-pot. The open basket behind the youth, circular, also replaces the curving palette behind the painter. Size, of course, in the imagination, is variable.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Boucher's Pastoral landscape with a shepherd and shepherdess (c. 1730)
Bottom: Detail of Boucher's Self-portrait in a studio (1720)

Click image to enlarge.

The girl not only bends like the tree, as we have seen, but a similar tree appears in the background facing the other way, just as her fingers and the brushes face the other way too. Indeed, if similarly inverted, the girl's head and shoulders resemble the pose of the painter's too, the remaining features - the angled head and torso in profile - that the youth does not share with the artist. They have been carefully divided between the two figures. Thus the girl, the artist's "painting", represents the artist too, the female part of his androgynous mind. She ever so clearly conveys as both "artist" and " painted model" that Boucher, like all true artists, paints himself. The several details which are flipped horizontally also suggest that the composition re-imagines Boucher's earlier self-portrait in the mirror of his mind. Exterior reality, viewed from inside, is always a reflection which is why this painting and thought itself is. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Boucher's Pastoral landscape with a shepherd and shepherdess (c. 1730)
Bottom: Detail of Boucher's Self-portrait in a studio (1720)

Click image to enlarge.

Lastly, Boucher was inspired in his early years by the art of Watteau whose self-portrait he copied in a drawing (top right). The ox, traditional attribute of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, appears to look out of the canvas with features transformed from Boucher's own copy of Watteau's portrait (see diagrams). Even the turn of the head is similar. Boucher thus merges his identity with Watteau's and St. Luke's and highlights, perhaps, the artist's unity with nature.1 If the ox represents the poetic, spiritual and purified mind of painting which he, Boucher, shares with saint and master, the ox will not be looking out at us but into the mirror of his own mind, Boucher's.2 The bottom-line is that the entire composition is a mirror and a visual metamorphosis of Boucher's self-portrait and Watteau's.

N.B. I doubt, as in so many other entries on EPPH, that any of these observations have ever been seen before except by artists. This is partly because art historians are completely unaware of the visual metamorphosis of compositions in which one image is turned into a completely different one yet carries meaning borrowed from the first.

Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Detail of Boucher's Pastoral landscape with a shepherd and shepherdess (c. 1730)
Top R: Detail of Boucher's drawing after a lost portrait of Watteau.
Lower L&R: Diagrams of details above
 

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Notes:

1. It is possible that Boucher uses the animal to indicate the mind's attachment to the body and, thus, that even great artists have animal natures.

2. See the many other examples on this site of paintings constructed as a mirror under the theme Mirrors including Velazquez's Las Meninas.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 26 Jun 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.