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Pan and Syrinx

Artist
François Boucher (Paris, 1703-1770)
Date
Signed or inscribed and dated (upper left): f. Boucher 1743
Size
101 x 134 cm (unframed); 121 x 152 cm (framed)
Technique
Oil on canvas
Provenance
  • Private Collection, Northern France, from the 19th century until recently.

François Boucher (1703-1770) was a French artist whose work helped the initiation and development of the Rococo style. This style adorns delicate and decorative embellishments in both art and architecture and features elaborate ornamental and theatrical representations. Rococo is also described as the final expression of the Baroque movement. Boucher is known today as the painter of boldly voluptuous goddesses and mistresses. He insisted on adopting a high-toned colour palette which included blues and pinks that were well suited to the highly decorative appearances of the paintings, drawings and Rococo interiors without mentioning the execution of the same style through various other media such as porcelain and tapestries.

As Boucher’s painting career started to flourish, he focused on large-scale Greek mythological paintings and depicted the story of Pan and Syrinx, where he created a number of variations of the myth. The painting characterizes Pan, god of the forest, having hooves for legs along with horns and goat ears, looking at the beautiful nymph, Syrinx. Wishing to compliment the nymph, Pan chases Syrinx who is scared of Pan’s looks and would not stop to hear any of Pan’s admiration towards her. She calls upon the river god to help her in her escape who, in return, transforms Syrinx into tall river reeds. The sound of the wind in the reeds pleases Pan who tears some of the reeds to create a musical instrument bearing his name. Curator and art historian Alastair Laing, who inspected the ‘Pan and Syrinx’ painting by Boucher, points out that details such as the clear traces of shaping on the left-hand side of the painting and the emphasis on the broad handling of the paint might suggest further planning for the work to have originally formed part of a much larger tapestry cartoon.

Boucher’s rendition of Pan and Syrinx characterises both his style along with the Rococo illustration of pastel colours with gently curved lines to indicate a sensitivity and softness in the scene. There are no visible sharp edges and the individuals in the painting are vibrant and comfortable in their positions. The women in the paintings are illuminated, especially Syrinx, with delicate features, perfectly clear skin and rosy cheeks along with pearls adorning her upper arm. Boucher depicts social classes with the use of beautiful garments, fabrics and pearls which represent an upper-class status. Furthermore, Boucher completely changes the negative vibe in the original Pan and Syrinx myth by depicting Syrinx naked and sitting in a prosperous position. This feature adds eroticism to the painting, simply for the viewing contentment of the French public.

Sources:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bouc/hd_bouc.htm

https://www.francoisboucher.org/

https://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2007/old-master-paintings-evening-l07031/lot.65.html

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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