Being Seduced by Boucher

Nimble hands at the Wallace Collection have been re-hanging paintings since the second week of August in order to assemble its considerable number of Francois Boucher and Boucher-related items into one room. ‘So even thought you don’t like Boucher, at least the Collection will have a fresh looking feel about it’, ventured one curator at the start of the preview.

Not perhaps the most positive note to begin their new exhibition, ‘Boucher: Seductive Visions’ which opens today (September 30, 2004), but then Boucher, and Boucher in concentrate form as he is in this exhibition, might not be an immediate ‘seducer’ and crowd pleaser.

However, while it is tempting to dismiss his bordering-on-bawdy cherubs and nudes as tawdry and chocolate box dry, the man undoubtedly had talent and, more interestingly, precociousness as well as an entrepreneurial spirit in abundance. All of which becomes overtly evident in the Wallace Collection’s exhibition.

Added to which Jo Hedley, the exhibition curator, has enormous enthusiasm for his work and admiration for his ambition. Born in Le Chatelet, ‘a really stinky part of Paris’ (which hasn’t improved over the past 300 years), Boucher didn’t exactly have a silver spoon entrée into the Parisian art scene. After winning and immediately losing the Prix de Rome, on account that the King had never heard of him, Boucher was not dissuaded. Instead, he recognised that artists were making money from engravings and etchings and he set about getting his hands on a chunk of that cake.

‘Later he never dropped this early connection with the book trade,’ says Jo Hedley. ‘And from it he developed a love of fashion and contemporaneity which filtered through his work. He was never attracted to the idea of classical art and timelessness but drawn towards Rococo interiors and decorative arts.’