At the Salon of 1765, Boucher exhibited this painting with three others in order to form the narrative of a simple love story: a second painting depicted the arrival of the dove carrying a love letter, a third a showed a shepherdess read the letter aloud to her confidante, and the fourth depicted the lovers finally meeting.
Denis Diderot, often a harsh critic of Boucher, praised the four paintings as “a charming little poem,” but he condemned the falsity of the pastoral genre, comparing it to country life as represented in French opera.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Bird and note
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:The Dispatch of the Messenger
Artist:François Boucher (French, Paris 1703–1770 Paris)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:Oval, 12 5/8 x 10 1/2 in. (32.1 x 26.7 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Joseph Heine, in memory of her husband, I. D. Levy, 1944
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. August 25–September 30, 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".
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 11.
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.
Alan P. Wintermute. "Inventory of Paintings by the Ten 'First Painters to the King' in Public Collections in the United States." The First Painters of the King: French Royal Taste from Louis XIV to the Revolution. Ed. Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat., Stair Sainty Matthiesen. New York, 1985, pp. 132–33, no. 68, ill.
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.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 375, ill.
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)].
Katharine Baetjer. French Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York, 2019, pp. 163–66, 168 n. 3, no. 44, ill. (color).
Carol Santoleri in Katharine Baetjer. French Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York, 2019, p. 31.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.