This painting illustrates a story from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (I, 793-820). The nymph Syrinx was pursued by the amorous Pan as far as the river Ladon, where she begged her sisters of the river, one of whom is shown reclining on an urn, to help her. Thinking that he had caught Syrinx, Pan clasped at her, but the river nymphs changed Syrinx into the reeds growing on the river bank, from which he later made his pipes. He rushes towards Syrinx in Boucher's painting, urged on by the boy Cupid holding an arrow and a burning torch.
In its scale and intimate character, the painting is very like the work of Jean-Antoine Watteau although the theme is directly mythological and the treatment more overtly erotic. Imbued with drama, it is also more distinctly reminiscent of Rubens in style.
Two drawings by Boucher connected with this composition are known, both executed in red, black and white chalks (private collection; Bloomington, Indiana, University Art Museum).
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Twenty One, July 2008