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François Boucher (1703-1770)
Madame de Pompadour
circa 1750
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Having been King Louis XV of France’s official mistress from 1745 until 1750, Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) remained his closest confidante until her death in 1764.

The vigorous brushwork in this small oil sketch suggests movement and spontaneity – as though the artist had to work quickly to capture his sitter’s appearance as she prepared to go out. She has discarded drawings and sheet music and is putting the last touches to her costume as she steps forward. She wears a pearl bracelet with a miniature portrait of the king which reminds us of Madame de Pompadour’s closeness to the monarch and her high status at the royal court. Through the composition, Boucher drew parallels between the sitter and the surrounding objects. The glowing smoothness of the porcelain vase is mirrored in her skin, the flowers with the colour in her cheeks and the sparkle of gilding, glass and jewellery with her eyes. The head and arms form a triangle whose height adds grace and stature but whose asymmetry adds to the sense of informality.

Madame de Pompadour looks like she is rushing to get ready, but would have had to keep very still to have her portrait painted. Ask the class to make ‘in action’ poses and see how easy it is to stay in those positions.

Look at the free brushstrokes of this painting, which add to the sense of movement. However, one part of her body is very precisely painted. Can the children see what this is and why do they think this is the case?

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, Madame de Pompadour, circa 1750
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 62.5 x 46 cm
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust): 965.1995
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