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                                             The Lost Boucher


Françoise Boucher, grisaille detail showing fluid and unique brushwork

Art World’s Dirty Little Secret
malcolm setters / graham setters

Take this two hundred and fifty year old print engraved after Françoise Boucher (illustrated below) and compare it to the artist’s original grisaille wash drawing. In James Henry Duveen’s words, “grisaille, that monochrome grey which the artists of the Louis XV period knew so well how to employ.”[i] In fact Boucher was the Royal artist to King Louis XV. Benevolently, the print guarantees that the image is by Boucher in the first place, but how do we know that the grisaille is not a copy of the print? Watercolour and other aqueous media have very much their own mind, and technique, is the only way in which to master their movement around the paper.

Technique, although in the case of artists like J.M.W. Turner who could apply watercolours with surgical precision, it still cannot be directed masterfully enough to copy exactly all the shaded values of an etching. The pooling and hydrokinetic characteristics; the tendency to exceed its boundaries through absorption; plus, the oftentimes arrant distribution of pigment-concentration makes copying a print (precisely) an impossible task. The odd passage might be imitated closely but within a few strokes the continuity would certainly be lost. Again, one must remember, what is rendered with watercolour, including inaccuracy, is indelible. Mistakes are irreversible.

This reasoning is clearly supported by the comments published by Walter Bayes, the professional watercolourist cum Turner biographer: “with water colour you never quite foresee the result,” it is “a matter of accident… it snaps a decision long before most painters have really done what they meant." (Walter Bayes, 1931,215-16.)

                                     Grisaille wash drawing showing the fluid and unique             René Gaillard: Le moineau apprivoisé
                                       brushwork: the full- image size is 37 X 44cm.                                      after  Françoise Boucher[1]

The several versions of Capriccio View of Tivoli, painted after Boucher, have subject matter that mirrors Le moineau apprivoisé. These too, are based on drawings; one is now in the Cabinet des Dessins, Louvre. Thus it makes sense to assume that the above etching was done after a drawing as well, rather than a lost painting as is assumed in the literature. Boucher had used the grisaille drawing technique on other occasions. Grisaille: "a monochrome painting and drawing technique executed in tones of gray"

The Wildenstein Institute is the final word on attributions for Boucher paintings, they produce the substantive Catalogue Raisonné for the artist. Agnès Lacau St. Guily is a key figure in this regard. d

After examining this drawing carefully Mr. Guy Wildenstein recommended that a request for an opinion might best be directed to Alastair Lang, The National Trust 36 Queen Anne's Gate London, SW1H9RS. He has been involved with a recent exhibition of Boucher drawings at The Frick Collection, New York; and The Getty, Los Angeles. 

                                                                                                           Art World’s Dirty Little Secret duplicate

                                           the enigmatic "Copy" Murillo

                      Art Discovery           Lost Kauffmann           Turner un-discovery  

[1] ‘Lost’ is the current status of the painting (grisaille). This original model is still unknown to the art world.

[i] James Henry Duveen , Secrets of an Art Dealer, (E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1938), 136.


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