Above:’Lady on her Daybed’ by François Boucher
When visiting the Frick Collection last Wednesday, the two paintings that impressed me most are the 18th Century painting ‘Lady on her Daybed’ by François Boucher and ‘Portrait of a man’ by Hans Memling, 15th Century.
François Boucher (1703-1770)
More than any other artist, François Boucher (1703–1770) is associated with the formulation of the mature Rococo style and its dissemination throughout Europe. Among the most prolific of his generation, he worked in virtually every medium and every genre, creating a personal idiom that found wide reproduction in print form. He was highly adept at marketing his work, providing designs for all manner of decorative arts, from porcelain to tapestry. Boucher’s insistence on a painterly surface and adoption of a high-toned palette favoring blues and pinks was well suited to Rococo interiors, but was the target of critical derision late in his career when the style fell from favor.
And indeed, few could deny the appeal of works like this pretty portrait most likely of Boucher’s wife, Marie-Jeanne Buseau (1716–after 1786). Madame Boucher frequently appeared in her husband’s paintings as the model for a goddess or a queen but rarely as herself. When this was painted, she was 27 years old, a mother of three and had been married for ten years.
Pertly propped up on a chaise-longue she looks as if she might have just woken from a mid-afternoon nap. Charmingly déshabillé, her voluminous dress is bunched up around her revealing a shapely ankle and stylish high-heeled slippers. Pink bows set off her pale skin and rosy cheeks, one of which she leans coquettishly into a soft hand. It is a candid image of a much-loved wife and as well as a compendium of the Rococo style: glossy surfaces, a high-toned palette favouring blues and pinks, a playful grace and lightness and a sentimental, vaguely erotic tone.
Hans Memling (ca 1435-1494)
Although his date of birth is not recorded, Jan van Mimnelinghe (Hans Memling) was born sometime between 1435 and 1440 in the German town of Seligenstadt, near Mainz. His early training was carried out probably in Cologne, and it is generally agreed that, having arrived in the Low Countries in the late 1450s, Memling spent a prolonged period in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464). Following van der Weyden’s death, he made the move north to Bruges, a thriving commercial center that was also a hub of international banking. He was granted citizenship of the city in 1465, and by the 1470s he was Bruges’s preeminent artist.
Memling was engaged by a variety of local and foreign patrons primarily as a painter of devotional works, in which portraiture often played an essential role (in altar wings or as part of a diptych or triptych). More or less similar in scale, format, and presentation, his portraits might also celebrate forthcoming nuptials, commemorate a long-standing union, or—as in the case of one documented work—serve as an independent epitaph, to be placed near the sitter’s tomb. Many of the independent portraits that Memling painted seem to have been commissioned to commemorate a foreigner’s sojourn in Bruges. Such half-lengths, with waterways and swans dotting the lush countryside in the background, were particularly popular with the Italian bankers and merchants who did business in this international trading city.