The representation of intimacy and sexuality in the paintings of François Boucher

Essay, 2011

10 Pages, Grade: 1,7


The representation of intimacy and sexuality in the paintings of François Boucher

François Boucher (1703-1770) has not been taken seriously by art historians for many years. It took them a while to discover his genius. Today he is one of the most important painters of the Rococo. In his paintings he covers themes like female grace and sexuality and transfers his protagonists into intimate and erotic settings. This essay is going to examine the ways in which Boucher does represent those themes of intimacy and sexuality in his paintings. To support the resulting arguments, specific examples of his works will be given. The essay concludes in a comparison to Boucher’s most talented pupil, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and his famous painting ‘The Swing’.

The image of woman was in the 18th century was ambivalent. Even if at least the aristocratic women achieved some impact in social life, they were still seen as “property” of their male proponents.[1] Although Enlightenment thinkers debated on the role and nature of women, in predominant opinion females were considered as ‘dangerous’, especially “it was the female body as an erotic, sexual body that was problematic and that was deemed to require containment in the interest of social order.”[2] This was simply because the female body had the power to throw even the most serious man off track.

Art is an expression of such social understandings, because it is always part of its historical context. In the artistic context, the dangerously seductive female was elevated to a refined goddess, who is both modest and sensual.[3] This transformation “is a central to the western art tradition, and nowhere is it more fully realized than in Rococo art”[4], which embodies the preferred lifestyle of the wealthy aristocrats who deem the world’s existence as their pleasure only. The same applied to art which was meant to erotically stimulate the male viewer. The only way for a woman to gain some power was in the artificial representation as Venus.[5] Boucher’s work is particularly significant for these sexual tensions between the sexes of aristocratic society. His women are “always in some state of undress” and represent “by their provocative poses and passivity, the ideal mistress.”[6]

Boucher’s works can be divided into two groups: on the one hand there are the paintings with mythological themes, and on the other hand profane portraits of (aristocratic) everyday people. It seems to be logical to examine the ways in which Boucher creates erotic undertones separately.

Although Boucher approached mythological and therefore historical themes, he always involved a contemporary influence. Michael Levey makes a point when he writes: “Freedom from academic learning encouraged the utterly un-serious classical mythologizing of Boucher in which antiquity becomes an excuse for not wearing clothes.”[7] Boucher has been criticised by the Academy for his Olympian gods who were considered to be too human in their nudity, his themes without morally elevating undertone. It was said, that gods would not be in need of playing with their sexual charms or to give themselves to such profane desires. In Boucher’s work, the gods put aside their divine attributes in order to indulge their (and the viewer’s) fantasies.”[8] The problem with this visually pleasurable depiction was that it faded the actual important, eye-opening narration into the background: “The fable no longer served the honnête home as an intellectual distinction, as it had done in the age of Louis XIV; instead, it often had degenerated into nothing more than a pretext for erotic scenes.”[9]


[1] cf. CURRIE, Dawn and RAOUL, Valerie, The Anatomy of gender: women's struggle for the body (Don Mills (CA), Carleton University Press, 1992, p.66).

[2] ibid.

[3] cf Currie, 1992, p. 68.

[4] ibid.

[5] cf. Currie, 1992, p. 69.

[6] Currie, 1992, p. 70.

[7] LEVEY, Michael, Rococo to Revolution: major trends in eighteenth-century painting (London, Thames and Hudson, 1977, p. 16).

[8] BAILEY, Colin B. (ed.), The age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard : masterpieces of French genre painting (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 64).

[9] ibid.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


The representation of intimacy and sexuality in the paintings of François Boucher
University of Essex  (Art History)
Art, Sex & Death in the 18th Century
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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517 KB
françois, boucher
Quote paper
Sandra Kuberski (Author), 2011, The representation of intimacy and sexuality in the paintings of François Boucher, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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