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François Boucher (1703-1770)
Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc de Montpensier
1749
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This little boy, aged about two, was a member of the second most powerful family in France, descended from the brother of King Louis XIV of France. The rich green drapery, plumed bonnet and confident grasp of the horse’s ribbons recall the grandest portraits of grown-up princes and soldiers. Other details emphasise the playfulness and fragility of childhood such as the toys and extraordinarily delicate flowers which decorate the toddler’s robe. A silver and coral rattle hangs from his waist. Coral was often used for babies’ rattles because sucking it can soothe the pain of teething and it was believed to ward off evil. As well as a pull-along cat, doll and hobby-horse, we can see a toy boat made of two playing cards. The cards might also wittily suggest the royal power games into which this infant had been born.

The toys shown in this portrait are those of a very rich child and are therefore the best examples of the toys of the day. What toys would be drawn in a child’s portrait today?

Louis-Philippe (1747-1793) grew up to become the duc d’Orléans. During the French Revolution he voted for the execution of his cousin, Louis XVI and was guillotined himself in 1793. Here he is blissfully unaware of his fate.

A friend and protégé of Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher (1703-1770) was enormously influential on the look of fashionable interiors during the height of the taste for the Rococo. He began his career engraving the work of Watteau and, after some time in Italy, he returned to France, becoming a member of the Academy in 1734 and its Director in 1765. He is best known for sensual mythological paintings, pastorals and intimate scenes of modern life. Boucher produced numerous stage sets as well as designs for tapestries and porcelain and the popularity of his work led to its spread throughout Europe through engravings and adaptation on objects ranging from textiles to snuffboxes.
François Boucher, Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc de Montpensier, 1749
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 90.8 x 72.4 cm
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection
(The National Trust): 481
Childhood
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