Boucher was an artist of incomparable virtuosity and industry with a preference for mythological and pastoral subjects. Here he shows a beautifully dressed shepherd and shepherdess. The simplicity of the subject belies the complexity of the composition, which is organized around a series of intersecting diagonals. This canvas, much admired at the Salon of 1753, was one of a pair of overdoors from Bellevue a château belonging to Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV.
This picture, titled in French Le Sommeil interrompu, had as its pendant The Love Letter (National Gallery of Art, Washington), which was engraved as Les deux Confidantes. Each painting shows stylish figures in colorful, elaborate peasant costumes accompanied by scrupulously clean sheep and dogs in a sunny landscape. Each is signed and dated 1750. Presumably, they were exhibited as a pair at the Salon of 1753 and are described in the catalogue, under one number, as overdoors from Bellevue, a château built for and belonging to Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764), official mistress of King Louis XV (1710–1774). The paintings were noticed and well received in the critical literature. The subject of the present work, a young man tickling a sleeping girl with a blade of straw, had been popular with seventeenth-century Dutch genre painters, by whom Boucher may have been influenced. It has also been pointed out that he was a contemporary and friend of Charles Simon Favart (1710–1792), and that scene four of Favart’s comic opera Les Vendanges de Tempé includes a vignette in which the Little Shepherd tickles the sleeping shepherdess, Lisette. More generally, the eclogues of Bernard de Fontenelle (1657–1757) were cited by the artist’s contemporaries as a possible source of inspiration for such elegant pastoral subjects, for which he was chiefly famous.
The couple from The Interrupted Sleep, with slight variations and in reverse, appears at the right edge of a large, horizontal Beauvais tapestry titled The Fountain of Love (Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California). The two shepherdesses from the Washington picture, also reversed, are next to the figures from this picture in the tapestry. While the first weaving of the Beauvais tapestry was not until 1755, what seems to be a full-scale cartoon for the left half (the joined fragments are in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles) was signed and dated by Boucher in 1748. Boucher was notably prolific, and while he had a fertile imagination, he must often have been under pressure of time, and he constantly revised and reused successful motifs. No drawings for our painting have been identified, but it was a much admired composition, as it was repeatedly engraved. The most important of the prints, by Nicolas Dauphin de Beauvais (1687–1763), describes it as from the collection of Madame de Pompadour. Originally, when set in the woodwork at Bellevue, the two overdoors had more complex, irregular, typically rococo shapes.
[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Inscription: Signed and dated (left center, on thatched shelter): f. Boucher / 1750
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour, château de Bellevue, and later hôtel d'Évreux, Paris (until d. 1764; inv., 1764, no. 1231); her brother, Abel François Poisson, marquis de Ménars, Paris (1764–d. 1781; his estate sale, Basan & Joullain, Paris, March 18–April 6, 1782, no. 13, for 396 livres to Loir); ?Monsieur S. D. . . (before 1793); ?sale, Ridel and Simonet, Paris, April 2, 1849, no. 17; ?sale, Féral, Paris, December 11–14, 1882, no. 1; comte Frédéric Alexis Louis Pillet-Will, Paris; [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, until 1923; sold for $60,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1923–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 47; 1943, no. 46)
Paris. Salon. 1753, no. 181 (as one of "Deux pastorales dessus de porte, Château de Belle-Vûe, sous le même No.").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 46 (as "The Sleeping Shepherdess").
Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 44.
Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 13, 1992–April 11, 1993, no. 27.
[L'Abbé Laugier]. Jugement d'un amateur sur l'exposition des tableaux, Lettre à M. le Marquis de V***. Paris, 1753, pp. 29–30 (Collection Deloynes, vol. 5, no. 59; McWilliam 1991, no. 0073), describes this painting (and its pendant): "Les deux Dessus de porte sont deux pastorales. Dans l'un, une Bergere est assise & endormie, un Berger s'approche sans bruit, & avance une main timide pour faire passer légérement une paille sur les levres de la Bergere . . .".
[L'Abbé Le Blanc]. Observations sur les ouvrages de MM. de l'Académie de peinture et du sculpture, exposés au Sallon du Louvre, en l'année 1753. Paris, 1753, pp. 17–18 (Collection Deloynes, vol. 5, no. 63; McWilliam 1991, no. 0080).
Inventory of Madame de Pompadour. June 27, 1764, no. 1231 [Archives Nationales, Paris; published in Jean Cordey, "Inventaire des biens de Madame de Pompadour rédigé après son décès, Paris, 1939, p. 90; Getty no. F-155], lists, in the ground-floor vestibule of her Paris hôtel, "Deux autres tableaux de même maître [Boucher], peints en mil sept cent cinquante, représentants des pastoralles, prisés neuf cens livres" [two pastorales by Boucher painted in 1750, valued at 900 livres].
Catalogue des différens objets de curiosités dans les sciences et arts, qui composoient le cabinet de feu M. le Marquis de Menars. François Basan and F.-Ch. Joullain, Paris. March 18–April 6, 1782, pp. 4–5, no. 13, note that it was engraved by Gaillard.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, p. 197, as "Le sommeil interrompu," engraved by Beauvais, and sold for 396 livres at the marquis de Menars sale
Paul Mantz. François Boucher, Lemoyne et Natoire. Paris, 1880, p. 122, states that two "bergeries" hung at Bellevue in a small room adjacent to the King's bedroom
André Michel. François Boucher. Paris, 1889, pp. 76, 93–94.
L. Soullié in collaboration with Charles Masson in André Michel. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de François Boucher. Paris, , p. 78, no. 1410, p. 89, no. 1573.
André Michel. François Boucher. Paris, , p. 96.
Georges Pannier in Pierre de Nolhac. François Boucher, premier peintre du roi, 1703–1770. Paris, 1907, p. 153.
Pierre de Nolhac. François Boucher, premier peintre du roi, 1703–1770. Paris, 1907, p. 153.
Maurice Fenaille. François Boucher. Paris, 1925, p. 70.
Louis Réau. L'art français aux États-Unis. Paris, 1926, p. 142, lists it in the collection of Jules S. Bache.
Gustave Kahn. Boucher. Paris, , p. 99 n. 1.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., state that the subject was repeated by Boucher in 1757 in a panel over 10 feet in height.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, ed. Unknown Masterpieces in Public and Private Collections. Vol. 1, London, 1930, no. 81, ill.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 47, ill.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 46, ill.
Harry B. Wehle. "Notes on the Cover." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (November 1950), unpaginated, ill. on cover (color detail).
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 134–36, ill.
Thomas C. Howe. "Vertumnus and Pomona by François Boucher." California Palace of the Legion of Honor Bulletin, n.s., 1, no. 5 (March and April 1968), unpaginated, fig. 9, notes that the subject is virtually identical with that of a painting in the collection of Count Natale Labia (Cape Town); suggests that this enlarged version may be the one that Boucher is supposed to have undertaken in 1757
Alexandre Ananoff with the collaboration of Daniel Wildenstein. François Boucher. Lausanne, 1976, vol. 2, pp. 19, 64–66, no. 363, fig. 1066, list engravings and copies; mistakenly identify the author of the first of these as Charles de Beauvais; note that the 1782 Ménars sale catalogue states in error that the picture was engraved by René Gaillard; describe the painting of this subject in Cape Town as purely decorative.
Jean-Luc Bordeaux. "The Epitome of the Pastoral Genre in Boucher's Oeuvre: 'The Fountain of Love' and 'The Bird Catcher' from 'The Noble Pastoral'." J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 3 (1976), pp. 87, 100 nn. 17–18, fig. 14, discusses Boucher's earlier use of the motif, which in all likelihood appeared at the left of his 1748 tapestry cartoon ("La Fontaine d'Amour," J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) but is now missing; notes that the tapestry in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, includes this scene at the far right.
Denys Sutton. François Boucher. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1980, pp. 28, 39.
Alexandre Ananoff with the collaboration of Daniel Wildenstein. L'opera completa di Boucher. Milan, 1980, p. 117, no. 385, ill. p. 117 and colorpl. 38.
Georges Brunel. Boucher. London, 1986, p. 177, figs. 144, 226.
Katharine Baetjer et al. inTreasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art. Tokyo, 1989, pp. 20, 98–99, no. 44, ill., notes that the identification with a painting exhibited in 1753 has not been universally accepted; states that it was originally an oval.
Deborah Krohn et al. inFrom El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1992, no. 27, ill. (color, overall and detail) [catalogue section unpaginated], p. 308.
Alastair Laing and Pascal Torrès Guardiola inMadame de Pompadour et les arts. Ed. Xavier Salmon. Exh. cat., Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon. Paris, 2002, pp. 42–43, 244, ill., wonder if Mme de Pompadour was only able to obtain replicas of Boucher's 1750 originals, which could explain why Beauvais's engraving includes rocks and a tree trunk that do not appear here.
Melissa Hyde. Making Up the Rococo: François Boucher and His Critics. Los Angeles, 2006, p. 175 n. 68, discusses the importance of Favart's comic opera, "Les Vendanges de Tempé," and the theatrical tradition of the pastorale as a key influence on Boucher's pictures of this kind.
Richard Rand inFrench Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. Washington, 2009, pp. 14–18, fig. 1, under no. 2.
Michel Delon, ed. The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. pp. 416–17 (color).