Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Adoration of the Shepherds

François Boucher (French, Paris 1703–1770 Paris)
Gouache over black chalk underdrawing, on paper, mounted on canvas
16 1/4 x 11 in. (41.3 x 27.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, David T. Schiff Gift, and Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, 1997
Accession Number:
Not on view
Known for graceful mythologies and charming scenes of rustic genre, Boucher produced relatively few religious paintings for a history painter of his standing. Those he did make were typically of an intimate scale intended for private devotion. These small paintings are quintessential expressions of the Rococo idiom, typified by lithe, elegant figures, a lush handling of the medium, and a preference for compositions based on the arabesque. Here, in the rustic subject of the Adoration of the Shepherds, Flemish painting and the oil sketches of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione are recalled, but in Boucher's hands the subject takes on a lightness and delicacy that distinguishes it from such sources.
Although similar in composition to an altarpiece of the same subject commissioned just before 1750 by Madame de Pompadour, the famed mistress of King Louis XV, this sketch was likely painted at a later date as an independent work. In both the completed altarpiece and this sketch Boucher uses a transient golden light radiating out from the celestial opening to anchor his composition. The heavenly light falls upon the Christ child, and the adoring onlookers cast vibrant, translucent shadows. Boucher skillfully explores the richness of light and color especially apparent in the opaque, creamy clouds and the surprising dabs of red paint in the flesh tones of the Virgin and Child.
(Perrin Stein)
Marking: Partial collector's mark of Damery (Lugt 2862) at the lower right; collector's mark of Jules and Edmond de Goncourt (Lugt 1089) at bottom center
Chevalier de Damery (French, died 1803 (?))his sale, Paris, November 18-19, 1803, lot 2.; Mathieu-Guillaume-Thérèse de Villenave (French, Haute-Garonne 1762–1846 Paris)Villenave sale, Paris, June 14-18, 1847 (auction postponed until February 1, 1848), lot 67; Edmond de Goncourt (French, Paris 1822–1896 Paris)Lugt 1089; Goncourt collection sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Feb. 15-17, 1897, lot 23.; Etienne-François Haro acquired at Goncourt sale; Baron Joseph Raphaël Vitta (1860–1942)His collection sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, June 27-28, 1924, lot 30; Leon Lowenstein Lowenstein sale, Galerie Jean Charpentier, Paris, December 17, 1935, lot 17; John Pape (South Africa and London)Acquired at Lowenstein sale, Paris, 1935; Mme. Carterton; Vendor: Wildenstein & Co., Ltd., London
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Ananoff 1980.384
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