Boucher was named director of the French Royal Academy in 1765, the year in which he painted the Virgin and Child. In this sprightly and accomplished picture, which is not overtly religious, he draws attention to the solemn innocence of infancy. Saint John the Baptist is shown as a very young child, his hands clasped in prayer, wearing a sheepskin and accompanied by a lamb.
In the year in which he signed and dated this canvas, 1765, Boucher was appointed first painter to Louis XV of France, and also was elected director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He had, however, lost his most important patron, Madame de Pompadour, the king’s mistress, who died the previous year. She had commissioned the few important religious subjects he painted, notably a Nativity for her château at Bellevue (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons) and a Rest on the Flight into Egypt (now in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). This little devotional picture was not exhibited and must have been a private commission. Despite the presence of the grapes, a symbol of the Eucharist, and the lamb, attribute of John the Baptist, here envisaged as a little boy draped in an animal skin, it might almost be mistaken for a pastoral subject. However the angels gathered above, and the brilliant aureole of light around his head, draw attention to the solemn infant and identify him as the Christ Child.
[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): f Boucher / 1765
Monsieur Ch[ariot] (until 1788; his sale, A. J. Paillet, Paris, January 28, 1788, no. 56, as "L'Enfant-Jésus sur les genoux de la Vierge, & adoré par Saint Jean, esquisse terminée & très agréable," 14 x 12 pouces [37.8 x 32.6 cm], "forme ovale"); private collection (until 1848; sale, Christie's, London, March 3, 1848, no. 31, as The Virgin and Child, and St. John—oval, for 20 gns., bought in); Joseph R. Bowles, Portland, Ore. (probably 1920s–before 1953); his daughter, Mrs. William W. (Marion Bowles) Hollis, San Francisco (until 1959; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, New York, 1959–65; sold to de Groot]; Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York (1965–66)
Andover, Mass. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy. "Significant Forms: The Changing Character of Western Art," July 8–September 25, 1961, no. 18 (as "Mère et Enfants," lent by Wildenstein and Co., Inc., New York, N.Y.).
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "A Treasury of French Art from the Renaissance to Modern Times," ?–September 12, 1964, no. 7 (as "Mother and Child and St. John").
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 53.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 53.
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "François Boucher," November 12–December 19, 1980, no. 32.
Atlanta. High Museum of Art. "The Rococo Age: French Masterpieces of the Eighteenth Century," October 5–December 31, 1983, no. 10.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 36.
Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 28.
Theodore Rousseau. "Reports of the Departments: European Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26 (October 1967), pp. 64, 67–68, ill.
Ruth Davidson. "Museum Accessions: European Paintings and Drawings." Antiques 96 (November 1969), p. 654, ill.
Regina Shoolman Slatkin. François Boucher in North American Collections: 100 Drawings. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1973, pp. xix, p. 12.
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 85, ill., mentions the influence of Castiglione and Correggio
Mary Ann W. Harris in100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum [in Russian]. Exh. cat., State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. Moscow, 1975, pp. 149–50, no. 53, ill. (color), notes that four years later Boucher used a similar group in an "Idyllic Scene" (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore).
Alexandre Ananoff with the collaboration of Daniel Wildenstein. François Boucher. Lausanne, 1976, p. 257, no. 617, fig. 1639.
Denys Sutton. François Boucher. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1980, pp. 15, 44, no. 32, fig. 33.
Alexandre Ananoff with the collaboration of Daniel Wildenstein. L'opera completa di Boucher. Milan, 1980, pp. 137–38, no. 652, ill.
Eric M. Zafran. The Rococo Age: French Masterpieces of the Eighteenth Century. Exh. cat., High Museum of Art. Atlanta, 1983, pp. 30, 40–41, no. 10, ill. in color, remarks that Boucher's religious works reflect the pietistic attitudes of Madame de Pompadour; comments on the traditional iconographic details, "which here seem part of a picnic luncheon".
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 196–98, no. 36, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 104–7, no. 28, ill. (color, overall and details)].