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François Boucher, Pan and Syrinx

Key facts
Full title Pan and Syrinx
Artist François Boucher
Artist dates 1703 - 1770
Date made 1759
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 32.4 × 41.9 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by Mrs Robert Hollond, 1880
Inventory number NG1090
Location Room 33
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Pan and Syrinx
François Boucher

This small and intimate painting is a cabinet picture intended for private domestic display rather than public exhibition. It illustrates a story from Metamorphoses, the epic poem by the Roman poet Ovid. The wood nymph Syrinx is chased by the god Pan to the river Ladon, where she begs one of the river nymphs to disguise her by changing her shape. The river nymph, with her back towards us, obliges by transforming Syrinx into reeds.

Boucher uses fluid brushstrokes to create a surface that has an almost jewel-like brilliance. The blues and greens complement the fleshy pinks of the women, who seem to glow against their dark surroundings. The painting’s mix of hedonism, overt eroticism and ambiguous sexuality may have particularly appealed to the libertine tastes of the royal court before the arrival of a more moralising tone in both art and art criticism in the 1760s.

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