Two shepherdesses relax in a lush woodland garden as the younger of the two attaches a sealed love letter (a billet-doux) to the neck of a white dove or carrier pigeon.
This painting is typical of the pastoral scenes at which Boucher particularly excelled. It is one of numerous studio copies made of The Love Letter (National Gallery of Art, Washington), which he painted for Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, in 1750. The format of the Washington painting is almost vertical, but this copy is horizontal. As a result, the composition has been reduced at the top and bottom and has additions at both sides. These include the base of a column on the right-hand side and the young boy leaning on a gate on the left of the picture. Variations in painting quality suggest that several people in Boucher’s large studio may have worked on this copy.
Two shepherdesses, accompanied by a young boy, their sheep and a hound, relax in a lush woodland garden. The younger of the two women attaches a sealed love letter (a billet-doux) to the neck of a white dove or carrier pigeon, using a blue ribbon that matches the colour of her satin dress. Her slightly older companion, in the pink dress, has a basket of flowers beside her, which are traditional attributes of Venus, the goddess of love.
This painting is typical of the pastoral scenes at which Boucher particularly excelled. It is one of numerous studio copies made of The Love Letter (National Gallery of Art, Washington), which was paired with The Interrupted Sleep (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) in which a young shepherdess is woken from her sleep by a young man. Boucher painted the two pictures for Madame de Pompadour, who was Louis XV’s official chief mistress from 1745 to 1751. A portrait of her by Drouais, Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame, is also in the National Gallery’s collection. An important figure in French cultural life, Madame de Pompadour was a patron of Boucher from 1747 until her death in 1764. Her sponsorship of him was part of her cultivation of the Rococo style in the fine and decorative arts, which had an important impact on refined taste..
The compositions of both paintings were adapted by Boucher from a monumental cartoon he had painted in 1748 for a tapestry titled The Fountain of Love. Signed and dated 1750, the two pictures were exhibited at the Salon of 1753, where they were described as overdoors for Madame de Pompadour’s residence, the Château de Bellevue at Meudon, some six miles south-west of Paris. Built in 1750, the small château, which was more like a country house than a traditional royal castle, was specifically intended for private meetings between the King and Mme de Pompadour. Boucher’s pastoral scenes were particularly suited for this venue as the Château de Bellevue (literally, ‘beautiful view’) was not only dedicated to pleasure but also overlooked the river Seine and was surrounded by gardens. In 1757 Bellevue was given to the King’s daughters and Boucher’s paintings are next recorded as being hung in the ground floor vestibule of Mme de Pompadour’s Paris residence, the Hôtel d’Evreux (now the Palais de l’Elysée).
The format of the Washington version of The Love Letter is almost vertical, but this copy is horizontal. As a result, the composition has been reduced both at the top and the bottom and has additions at both sides. These include the base of a column on the right-hand side and the young boy who is leaning on a stile gate on the left of the picture. A similar child appears in earlier paintings by Boucher, as does the hound. We do not know if Boucher himself was directly involved in painting this copy. Variations in painting quality suggest that several people may have worked on it, which would have been consistent with studio practice.
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