|FRANÇOIS BOUCHER, workshop
(Paris 1703 – 1770 Paris)
SYLVIA FLEEING THE WOUNDED WOLF
Oil on canvas, height: 90 cm, width: 120 cm (oval)
|François Boucher was a master of French Rococo painting, the gallant realms of which he brought to life with lascivious, mythological, allegorical, and erotic motifs. He was court painter to the French king Louis XV and a favourite of the influential Madame de Pompadour.
The painting ‘Sylvia Fleeing the Wounded Wolf’ from François Boucher’s workshop illustrates one of four episodes Boucher borrowed from Torquato Tasso’s pastoral play ‘Aminta’. Having premiered in 1573, it enjoyed great popularity in France throughout the eighteenth century.
The pastoral play relates the story of the enamoured shepherd Aminta, who desperately hungers for the chaste nymph Sylvia. Having made her kiss his lips under the pretext of asking her to soothe a bee sting, his yearning becomes all the deeper. Even after freeing Sylvia from the chains of a love-crazed satyr, who has tied her to a tree, the beloved nymph remains unyielding.
Instead of thanking him, Sylvia goes hunting and wounds a wolf with one of her arrows. The scene in the painting shows the moment when the wolf runs towards Sylvia, and she tries to escape, losing her veil. Her hunting companion Nerina finds Sylvia’s veil in the woods and believes she is dead.
Aminta, finding out about Sylvia’s alleged death, frantically jumps off a cliff. At that very moment, Sylvia becomes aware of her love for Aminta and wants to take her own life. But Aminta’s falling body is held up by a bush. The last scene shows Aminta lying in Sylvia’s lap, letting her lips dry his tears of joy and remorse.
The painting shows the obvious pleasure Boucher takes in depicting the young woman’s body with outspoken sensuality. The drama of what is about to happen is dissolved by the cheerful lightness, soft pastel colours, and great charms of the beautiful nymph.
Boucher originally created the four episodes for the Duc de Penthièvre as overdoors for the Hôtel de Toulouse in Paris or, according to an alternative assumption, for Madame de Pompadour and the Château de Crécy near Paris, which was purchased by the Duc de Penthièvre in 1756 shortly after the paintings were completed. Two of the paintings are still in the former Hôtel de Toulouse, today’s headquarters of the Banque de France. The two others, including the one with Sylvia and the wolf, entered the collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tours after the Revolution.
Another version of the subject of ‘Sylvia Fleeing the Wounded Wolf’ from Boucher’s workshop has survived in the Musée du Louvre. In his lifetime, François Boucher ran a studio with pupils whom he often entrusted with finishing his works, as he repeated details in different contexts and painted copies of his compositions, so-called ‘replicas’, for various patrons.