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Boucher works showcased at Kimbell

Artist was premier painter for King Louis XV
/ Source: The Associated Press

He drew with expression and detail, using soft red chalk to portray a nude woman reclining, and pen and ink to bring to life religious and mythological scenes.

Francois Boucher, the 18th-century draftsman who became the premier painter for France’s King Louis XV, drew some 10,000 pictures during his career. Many were sketched for his students, in preparation for a painting or to refine his work.

Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum showcases 80 of his drawings in “Genius of the French Rococo: The Drawings of Francois Boucher (1703-1770).” The exhibit, which includes many pieces never seen in the United States, opens Sunday and runs through April 18.

Celebrating the 300th anniversary of Boucher’s birth, it is the first major exhibit of his graphic work on loan from major museums and private collections in this country and Europe.

Because the Kimbell owns four Boucher paintings, museum curators decided to hold a simultaneous exhibit, “Boucher’s Mythological Paintings: The Last Great Series Reunited.” It includes two paintings on loan from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Boucher painted those six works — most of them measuring about 9 feet-by-6½ feet — for the Hotel Bergeret de Frouville in Paris about a year before he died on May 30, 1770. The paintings have not been together for decades and have never been displayed with his drawings.

“He really epitomized the French Rococo in all of its grand, spectacular beauty and refinement,” said Timothy Potts, director for the Kimbell. “In its day, it was the most refined, intelligent and sophisticated art in Europe.”

Boucher was born in Paris and learned from painters there, then studied in Rome in the late 1720s. He later returned to France, where he drew designs for engravers, tapestries, the theater and book illustrations.

He taught at a drawing academy and, being considered the best artist of his time, became the painter for King Louis XV, in 1765. In that period, drawings were not widely considered art. But that changed as Boucher’s reputation grew and people began collecting his work.

“There were probably people in the studio salivating to get another Boucher,” said Nancy Edwards, the Kimbell’s curator of European art.

Some of his celebrated drawings of nudes include “Study of the Figure of Apollo,” “Recumbent Female Nude” and “Study of a Young Nude Woman Reclining, With Both Arms Out to the Right.” All were done in chalk that captures the contours of the human form.

Made yesterdayOther notable works drawn with chalk include “Sketch of Two Cupids in the Air,” “Study of a Despondent Woman in Drapery” and “Head of a River God in Profile.”

“His drawings have maintained their status and symbol throughout the changes in the 20th century,” Potts said. “The drawings have that immediacy. They do look like they were made yesterday.”

Boucher also drew pastoral images — young barefoot women lounging in the grass or dancing, scenes of people fishing — and expressive landscapes. His “Landscape With a Mill-Pond” was done with black and white chalks with pastels, over graphite, on blue paper.

He also met the demand of the day by drawing complex scenes requiring compositional designs. Stunning pen-and-ink pieces in this category include “Allegory of the Education of Louis XV” and “A Lady Being Dressed by Her Maid.”

“The composition shows his range in terms of subject matter,” Edwards said. “We think of mythological figures and half-clothed women, but he did other subjects.”

The Kimbell is the second and final venue for the exhibit of Boucher’s drawings, first showcased at the Frick Collection in New York.

Because the work cannot be exposed to too much light, it remains in storage much of the time.

“Even if you went to museums in Europe, you wouldn’t get to see all of these drawings,” Potts said.