Madame de Pompadour, Mistress of Louis XV
- Place of origin:
François Boucher, born 1703 - died 1770 (painter (artist))
- Materials and Techniques:
Oil on canvas
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by John Jones
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Prints & Drawings Study Room, room 315, case 23, shelf R
François Boucher (1703-1770) was born in Paris and probably received his first artistic training from his father who was a painter before attending the Académie de France in Rome. He may also have travelled to Naples, Venice and Bologna. Around 1731 Boucher returned to Paris where he rapidly gained the royal favour and interest from the private collectors. He was a very prolific artist and produced a wide range of artworks from pastoral paintings, porcelain and tapestry designs as well as stage designs influencing deeply the new Rococo movement.
This painting is a fine example of the dominant Rococo style in 17th-century France. It depicts the Marquise de Pompadour who became in 1745 the favourite mistress of King Louis XV. She is portrayed in a garden or edges of woods wearing a sumptuous white silk dress which blends in with the ochre green of the vegetation around. This picture is characterised by the combination of a subtle artificiality and sufficient naturalism, which is a typical feature of the Rococo aesthetic. This painting is a good example of how the Marquise was probably made to celebrate and consolidate the Marquise’s new status as well as exalting her renown beauty.
The Marquise of Pompadour portrayed full-length in a garden. She wears a sumptuous silk dress and holds a book while facing left. All around the picture is filled with vegetation, wild roses and bird.
Place of Origin
François Boucher, born 1703 - died 1770 (painter (artist))
Materials and Techniques
Oil on canvas
Marks and inscriptions
'f. Boucher 1758'
Height: 52.4 cm estimate, Width: 57.8 cm estimate, Height: 945 mm framed, Width: 832 mm framed, Depth: 90 mm framed
Object history note
Bequeathed by John Jones, 1882
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix-xx
John Jones (1800-1882) was first in business as a tailor and army clothier in London 1825, and opened a branch in Dublin 1840. Often visited Ireland, travelled to Europe and particularly France. He retired in 1850, but retained an interest in his firm. Lived quietly at 95 Piccadilly from 1865 to his death in January 1882. After the Marquess of Hertford and his son Sir Richard Wallace, Jones was the principal collector in Britain of French 18th century fine and decorative arts. Jones bequeathed an important collection of French 18th century furniture and porcelain to the V&A, and among the British watercolours and oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A are subjects which reflect his interest in France.
See also South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks. The Jones Collection. With Portrait and Woodcuts. Published for the Committee of Council on Education by Chapman and Hall, Limited, 11, Henrietta Street. 1884.
Chapter I. Mr. John Jones. pp.1-7.
Chapter II. No.95, Piccadilly. pp.8-44. This gives a room-by-room guide to the contents of John Jones' house at No.95, Piccadilly.
Chapter VI. ..... Pictures,... and other things, p.138, "The pictures which are included in the Jones bequest are, with scarcely a single exception, valuable and good; and many of them excellent works of the artists. Mr. Jones was well pleased if he could collect enough pictures to ornament the walls of his rooms, and which would do no discredit to the extraordinary furniture and other things with which his house was filled."
Historical significance: This painting is a fine example of the Rococo style Boucher contributed to develop in 18th-century France.
Among numerous commissions, Boucher also worked for the Marquise de Pompadour who became, between 1747 and her death in 1764, her most enthusiastic admirer and patron. Among the best known pastoral and the few religious scenes the Marquise commissioned to Boucher, there are also a number of portraits of herself.
The present painting portrays the Marquise of Pompadour in a garden that looks like the edges of a wood, a typical feature of artificially recreated nature favoured by the Rococo. She wears a sumptuous silk dress in yellowish white who blends in with the scenery depicted in harmonious shades of ochre green. This aesthetic dominated by subdued colours is characteristic of Boucher's art who recreated the genre of the pastoral, fostering an imagery of shepherds and shepherdesses as sentimental lovers that was taken up in every medium, from porcelain to toile de Jouy. He transferred this pastoral atmosphere to other subject matters such as court portraits. The wild roses and the little birds enhance the idyllic atmosphere of the picture while the books allude to the Marquise's reputation as a patroness of the arts.
Another portrait of the Marquise in a garden is dated 1759, a year after the V&A version (Wallace collection, London -P418) whereas two earlier portraits depict the Marquise in an interior: one dated 1756 is in the Alte Pinacothek, Munich (Inv.-Nr. HUW 18) and the other is in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (NG 429). In these two interior scenes, the Marquise is pictured is the exact same position whilst holding an open book but the palette Boucher employed appears there much more brilliant with saturated colours, another aspect of Boucher's art who oscillates between pastel-like scenes and more vivid although utterly harmonious colour scheme. H. Wine (2002) had suggested that this more chastered representation of the Pompadour displaying an immaculate white dress, was in part a response to unsympathetic criticism that greeted the Munich portrait at the 1757 Salon.
In 1758, Boucher painted another portrait of the Marquise which looks quite different in the format and much more intimate. It depicts the Marquise at her toilet (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, Cambridge) in the middle of a beautifying ritual and oscillates between a courtly and politic interpretation (consolidating her position as a favourite) and a purely private image painted for her brother, the marquis de Marigny. Anyhow Boucher paid here another tribute to her beauty. However Boucher was not the only artist to have portrayed the Marquise but others such as François-Hubert Drouais (1727-1775) portrayed the Marquise in the early 1760s (see The National Gallery, London; Stewart Museum, Montreal, Musée Condé, Chantilly).
This approach, characterised by a wealth of picturesque details, dominated French painting until the emergence of Neo-classicism, when criticism was heaped on Boucher and his followers.
Historical context note
In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
Portrait paintings were still fashionable during the following centuries and extended to the rising bourgeoisie and eventually to common people, especially during the social and political transformations of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, painted portraits were challenged and eventually supplanted by the development of new media such as photography.
Oil on canvas, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher, 1758.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: 1973, p. 39-40, cat. no. 38
The following is the full text of the entry:
"François BOUCHER (1703-70)
Born in Paris, he was a pupil of his father, a designer of embroidery, of François Lemoyne and of the engraver Jean François Cars. In 1725 he was commissioned by Jean de Julienne to undertake engravings after Watteau for the Figures de différents caractères de paysages et d'études. In 1727 he was in Italy with Carle van Loo and on his return in 1731 he became an agrée of the Académie. Three years later he was called to Beauvais to design tapestries and ultimately became Inspector of the Paris Gobelins factory after Oudry's death in 1755. He was a profilic and popular painter, working for Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. In 1765 he was appointed Director of the Académie, and Premier Peintre du Roi in succession to Van Loo.
Boucher was the most important figure among the second generation of French rococo painters and he exerted considerable influence both in painting and in the decorative arts.
Lit. A Michel, Boucher, 1906; P. de Nolhac, Boucher, 1907.
MADAME DE POMPADOUR (1721-64),
MISTRESS OF LOUIS XV
Signed and dated f. Boucher 1758 on
a stone, lower right
28½ x 22¾ (52.4 x 57.8)
After the flight of her father from Paris in 1725 in consequence of a blackmarket scandal, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was brought up by Le Normant de Tournehem, a director of the Compagnie des Indes and a fermier-général. In 1741 de Tournehem married Antoinette to his nephew Le Normant d'Étioles; four years later she became the King's mistress and was created Marquise de Pompadour.
It is generally accepted that Boucher knew her when she was still Madame d'Étioles, as he belonged to the group of artists assembled at the house of Le Normant de Tournehem (Michel, op. cit., p. 61; De Nolhac, op. cit., p. 56 f.; 1922, p. 193). There is, however, no evidence for the view (expressed in N. Mitford, Madame de Pompadour, 1954, p. 25) that she was ever painted by Boucher at this period. All the portraits of her by Boucher and by Nattier date from the time after her creation as Marquise de Pompadour.
Boucher benefited greatly from the Pompadour's patronage. Almost half the portraits he executed are of her, and he carried out much decorative work for her at Fontainebleau and Bellevue. His portraits of her may be grouped as follows:
I. Seated/reclining, interior
1) Alte Pinakothek, Munich, formerly Alphons de Rothschild, Vienna. Dated 1756. (H. Leporini in Pantheon, vi, 1930, p. 366).
2) Heir of Maurice de Rothschild, Geneva, formerly Paris. Dated 1757, almost identical with (1) (repr. de Nolhac, 1922, p. 201, and Leroy, 1939, p. 303; exh. R. A. 1932, no. 143).
3) National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. A truncated replica of (1) (exh. R. A. 1932, no. 144; 1954-55, no. 448).
A version formerly in the Earl of Pembroke's collection (Puttick & Simpson, 31 May 1932, lot 125; Christie's, 23 Nov. 1962, lot 26) appears to be a studio copy of (1):
II. Seated, exterior
4) V. & A. Museum, 487-1882. Dated 1758. The position of the body is similar to that in Group I above.
III. Standing full length, interior
5) Mrs James de Rothschild Collection (exh. R. A., 1954-55, no. 468). Two versions, closely related to each other and apparently based on (5) are not autograph, though one is reproduced by De Nolhac (1922, p. 195, Romanelli Collection) and the other by Leroy (1939, p. 304, Louvre, Schlichting Collection, see Bulletin de la Soc. de l'hist. de l'art français, 1918-19, p. 82).
IV. Standing exterior
6) Wallace Collection. Dated 1759 (repr. De Nolhac, 1922, p. 197; Leroy, 1939, p. 301, as well as in Wallace Collection catalogues).
V. Half length
7) Portland Museum, Oregon (repr. Portland Art Association Annual Report, 1964-65).
Prov. John Jones; bequeathed to the Museum in 1882.
Lit. Lady Dilke, French painters of the xviiith century, 1899, p. 55, repr. p. 6; H. Macfall, Boucher, 1908, p. 82, repr.; Long, Cat. Jones Coll., 1923, p. 1, pl. 29; A. Leroy, 'The portraits of Madame de Pompadour' in Connoisseur, ciii, 1939, p. 302, repr.; M. Trouncer, The Pompadour, 1937, p. 150, repr. only; P. de Nolhac, 'François Boucher portraitiste de Madame de Pompadour' in La Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne, xli, 1922, p. 193, discusses several of these portraits but does not mention 487-1882; V. & A. Museum, French paintings, 1949, pl. II; C. M. Kauffmann in Apollo, xcv, 1972, p. 183, fig. 11."
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum, London: V&A, 1985, p.68.
The following is the full text of the entry:
"Francois Boucher 1703-1710
MADAME DE POMPADOUR (1721-64), MISTRESS OF LOUIS XV
Signed and dated f. Boucher 1758 on stone lower right
Oil on canvas, 52.4 x 57.8 cm
487-1882. Jones Bequest.
After the flight of her father from Paris in 1725 in consequence of a black market scandal, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was brought up by Le Normant de Tournehem, a director of the French East India Company and principal collector of taxes. In 1741 de Tournehem married Antoinette to his nephew Le Normant d'Etioles; four years later she became the King's mistress and was created Marquise de Pompadour. Even though there was a formal physical separation in 1750, Madame de Pompadour retained a position of central importance at the Court and remained a formidable patron of the arts in her own right.
Boucher knew her when she was still Madame d'Etioles, as he belonged to a group of artists assembled at the house of Le Normant de Tournehem, and he benefited greatly from her patronage when she became Madame de Pompadour. Although he is best known as a painter of decorative figure subjects, whose portraits are few and far between, he painted her portrait at least seven times - there are fine versions in the Wallace Collection and in the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. He also decorated her theatre in 1746, her dining room at Fontainebleau in 1748 and her chateau at Bellevue two years later.
In spite of the emphasis on the sumptuous satin and courtly splendour of the dress, this portrait surprises by its freshness and directness. In this way it is in strong contrast to the society portraits of a decade or two later when dress, wigs and make-up had become markedly more ostentatious and sitters' bearing ever haughtier. The background of trees and roses, also, although in a somewhat artificial convention, retains sufficient naturalism to remind one that Boucher had spent years as a young man drawing landscape from nature.
Claude Phillips, "A Watteau in the Jones collection" in the Burlington Magazine, vol. XIII, 1908, p. 345
"We have there ranged on the line the Madame de Pompadour of Boucher, an original version of which exists also in the collection of Baroness Alphonse de Rothschild."
Lady Dilke, French painters of the xviiith century, 1899, p. 55, repr. p. 6.
H. Macfall, Boucher, 1908, p. 82, repr.
B. Long, Catalogue of the Jones Collection, 1923, p. 1, pl. 29
A. Leroy, 'The portraits of Madame de Pompadour' in Connoisseur, ciii, 1939, p. 302, repr.
M. Trouncer, The Pompadour, 1937, p. 150, repr. only
P. de Nolhac, 'François Boucher portraitiste de Madame de Pompadour' in La Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne, xli, 1922, p. 193, discusses several of these portraits but does not mention 487-1882
V. & A. Museum, French paintings, 1949, pl. II
C. M. Kauffmann in Apollo, xcv, 1972, p. 183, fig. 11
M. Hyde, Making up the Rococo. François Boucher and His Critics, Los Angeles, 2006.
An entire chapter dedicated to Marquise de Pompadour but no mention of 487-1882.
C. Jones, Madame de Pompadour, Images of a Mistress, London: 2003, fig. 32, p. 69.
Alexander Roslin and the Comtesse d'Egmont Pignatelli, Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2008, fig. 10, p.20.
H. Wine in Madame de Pompadour et les arts, Paris, 2002, cat. 28, p. 150.
J. Bialostocki, The Message of Images. Studies in the History of Art, Vienna, 1988, fig. 60, p. 61.
Princely treasures. European masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, S. Medlam and L. Miller ed., London, 2011, p.34, illus.
Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the V&A (Art Gallery of Western Australia 24/09/2011-09/01/2012)
Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the V&A (National Museum of Korea (Seoul) 02/05/2011-28/08/2011)
Vivienne Westwood (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/04/2004-18/07/2004)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Madame de Pompadour et les arts/Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress (National Gallery (London) 16/10/2002-12/01/2003)
Madame de Pompadour et les arts/Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress (Kunsthalle 01/01/2006-15/09/2102)
Madame de Pompadour et les arts/Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress (Château de Versailles 12/03/2002-19/05/2002)
Alexander Roslin Exhibition (Minneapolis Institute of Arts 29/08/2008-30/11/2008)
Canvas; Oil paint
Birds; Trees; Roses; Book; Reading; Pompadour, Madame de