At the Salon of 1765, this painting was exhibited with three others, to form a narrative. A second oval depicted the arrival of the dove carrying a love letter. In one of the two rectangular canvases, the shepherdess read the letter to her confidante, and the other showed the meeting of the lovers.
Diderot, a harsh critic of Boucher, praised the four paintings as "a charming little poem," but he condemned the falsity of the genre, comparing it to country life as represented in French opera. Drawings by Beauvarlet after the two ovals, made in preparation for engravings, were exhibited in the Salon of 1769.
At the Salon of 1765, this small canvas was exhibited with three others under a single number. The opening scene in a series of four, it presents a shepherd fastening his love letter to a white dove by a long blue ribbon. A second oval depicted the arrival of the dove carrying the letter to the shepherdess, who leaned against a tree; black chalk drawings by Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet (1731–1797) after the two ovals, made in preparation for engravings, were exhibited at the Salon of 1769. In the third and fourth canvases, which were rectangular and which were also engraved, the shepherdess read the letter to her confidante, and the lovers met. Apparently, the other three paintings have disappeared and only the present work from the series survives. Although in general it was the practice of the writer and critic Denis Diderot (1713–1784) to condemn the falsity of the pastoral genre, he praised this picture and its companions as "a charming little poem." The trees with their fluffy foliage are carefully arranged to echo the pose of the shepherd and emphasize the oval shape of the design. His gourd-shaped water bottle and the pair of doves in the background at the upper left are typically allusive. [Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): f. Boucher / 1765
Mme Geoffrin, Paris (from 1765; along with the three other paintings from the series); sale, Paris, February 29, 1856, no. 6; ?Sir Anthony de Rothschild, London (until d. 1876); his daughter, the Hon. Mrs. Yorke, London (1876?–d. 1926; her estate sale, Christie's, London, May 6, 1927, no. 26, ill., to Smith); [Wildenstein, New York, 1928]; Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Levy, New York (1928–his d. 1934); Mrs. Isaac D. (Rosetta Davis) Levy, later Mrs. Joseph Heine, New York (1934–44; sale, Parke Bernet, New York, November 25, 1944, no. 251, bought in)
Paris. Salon. 1765, no. 11 (one of "Quatre pastorales, dont deux sont ovales").
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 22 (as "The Messenger of Love," lent by Mrs. I. D. Levy, New York).
New York. Parke-Bernet. "French and English Art Treasures of the XVIII Century," December 20–30, 1942, no. 2 (as "The Shepherd Boy," lent by Mrs. Rosetta Davis Heine) [This exhibition was not held under the auspices of Parke-Bernet; the galleries were lent out.].
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "European Masters of the XVII and XVIII Centuries," January 13–February 5, 1950, no. 17.
Paris. Hôtel de la Monnaie. "Diderot & l'art de Boucher à David, les Salons: 1759–1781," October 5, 1984–January 6, 1985, no. 37.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "François Boucher, 1703–1770," February 17–May 4, 1986, no. 78 (as "The Departure of the Pigeon Post").
Detroit Institute of Arts. "François Boucher, 1703–1770," May 27–August 17, 1986, no. 78.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "François Boucher, 1703–1770," September 19, 1986–January 5, 1987, no. 78.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013, no. 22.
Beijing. National Museum of China. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 8–May 9, 2013, no. 22.
Denis Diderot. Salon de 1765. Paris, 1765 [published in Ref. Seznec and Adhémar 1960, p. 80] (McWilliam 1991, no. 0172), praises Boucher's "pastorales" as a narrative of country courtship; erroneously gives the Salon catalogue number for the group as 12.
Friedrich Melchior Grimm in Denis Diderot. Salon de 1765. Paris, 1765 [published in Ref. Seznec and Adhémar 1960, pp. 81, 123], remarks that they recall the mannered and frivolous spirit of "l'opéra français"; notes that they are in the boudoir of Madame Geoffrin, rue Saint-Honoré, Paris
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, pp. 184, 196, record that this one was engraved by Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet
L. Soullié in collaboration with Charles Masson in André Michel. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de François Boucher. Paris, , p. 77, no. 1384, as "Le départ du courrier" with its pendant, "L'arrivée du courrier" (lost, but engraved by Beauvarlet).
Pierre de Nolhac. Boucher, premier peintre du roi. Paris, 1925, p. 182.
International Studio (April 1928), p. 37, ill. (color).
L[ouise]. G. B[urroughs]. "Notes on the Cover." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 3 (February 1945), p. 136, ill. on front cover (color), as "The Dispatch of the Messenger".
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 138–39, ill., views the Beauvarlet print's dedication to the marquise de Montesquiou as evidence that she may have owned the painting
Jean Seznec and Jean Adhémar, ed. Salons. By Denis Diderot. Vol. 2, 1765. Oxford, 1960, pp. 19–20, 80–81, fig. 18.
Alexandre Ananoff with the collaboration of Daniel Wildenstein. François Boucher. Lausanne, 1976, vol. 2, pp. 242–43, no. 594, fig. 1597.
Alexandre Ananoff with the collaboration of Daniel Wildenstein. L'opera completa di Boucher. Milan, 1980, p. 136, no. 627, ill.
Else Marie Bukdahl. Diderot: Critique d'art. Vol. 1, Théorie et pratique dans les Salons de Diderot. Copenhagen, 1980, pp. 55, 57, 259 n. 16,
Else Marie Bukdahl. Diderot critique d'art. Vol. 2, Diderot, les salonniers et les esthéticiens de son temps. Copenhagen, 1982, pp. 169, 264, 350 n. 428.
Marie-Catherine Sahut inDiderot & l'art de Boucher à David, les Salons: 1759–1781. Exh. cat., Hôtel de la Monnaie. Paris, 1984, pp. 140–43, no. 37, ill.
Georges Brunel inDiderot & l'art de Boucher à David, les Salons: 1759–1781. Exh. cat., Hôtel de la Monnaie. Paris, 1984, p. 103, wonders if Diderot tempered his criticism of these pictures because they belonged to Mme Geoffrin.
Alastair Laing inFrançois Boucher, 1703–1770. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1986, pp. 36, 302–5, 309, no. 78, ill. [French ed., 1986, pp. 43, 305–7, no. 78, ill., as "Le départ du courrier"], as "The Departure of the Pigeon Post"; suggests that the theme of pigeons as messengers of love was drawn from the sentimental literature of the period, but is unable to identify a specific source.
Georges Brunel. Boucher. London, 1986, p. 273.
Eik Kahng in Eik Kahng and Marianne Roland Michel. Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. Dallas, 2002, p. 44, fig. 7.
Melissa Hyde. Making Up the Rococo: François Boucher and His Critics. Los Angeles, 2006, pp. 58, 217, fig. 52, discusses the interchangeability of the sexes in Boucher's art.
Peter Barnet and Wendy A. Stein inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, ill. pp. 36, 70 (color).
Katharine Baetjer inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, pp. 215–16, no. 22, ill. [Chinese ed., Hefei Shi, 2013, pp. 52–53, no. 22, ill. (color)].