François Boucher

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    • Oil on Canvas, 1761

In striking contrast to the "cultivated" pictures from classical antiquity or the aristocratic portraits which were so widespread, the rococo also developed a new genre painting: shepherds and shepherdesses, innocents awash in a countryside teaming with nature, and natural tendencies to love-making. Of course, this idea of a simple, natural life was often put forward as a form of criticism of court and Parisian existence. Jean-Jacques Rousseau will attract great attention because of his deliberately provocative thesis that happiness could be best achieved by returning to such simple life.

Boucher was one of the first French painters to introduce this theme, and although it was so widely imitated and every modern museum seems to have loads of such pictures, somehow Boucher's treatments still remain fresh and appealing.

In this charming scene, a young boy and girl rest in an idylic pose. His goat and their bare feet show them to be from the countryside, but this seems contradicted by her rather elaborate costume, and her hot-house sized flowers. No wild rose ever grew so large.

But to raise such contradictions is to miss the point of these entertaining pictures. They are wilfully artificial, but are based on shrewd and real observations, and they helped art and artists shake off the dynastic, religious and mythological duties which had heretofore dominated their activities. This genre of actor-peasants offer us nature dressed as alluringly as his female Venus's and Diana's are undressed.

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