Monday, September 5, 2011

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love and The Vegetable Vendor

The Vegetable Vendor, Francois Boucher, 1735, Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, USA

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love 

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountains yields.

And we will sit upon rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses 
And a thousand fragrant poises,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds's swains shall dance and sing
For they delight each may morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

Christopher Marlowe, 1599

Much like the poem of the Passionate Shepherd captured by Christopher Marlow portrays a leisurely life of fanciful days in the fields with a lover, Boucher captured the essence of the Rococo period in the Vegetable Vendor painting.  The myrtle leaves to which Marlow refers are known as belonging to the Myrtle tree, the sacred tree of Venus, the goddess of love.  Rococo art emphasized the portrayal of the serene country life the French aristocracy craved.  The theatrical setting; a lively use of line and balance; and a delicate palette of colors characterized the style.  The Vegetable Vendor has an overwhelming effect on the viewer.  The large canvas painted entirely in smooth, flowing brushstrokes with a beautiful array of color envelope and draw in the audience.  The invitation of the painting to join the idyllic scene is answered by the viewer as they stop to gaze around this fanciful scene.

Boucher incorporated an expanded delicate pallet of colors to create this idyllic bucolic painting.  As the majority of the canvas is covered in earth tones, delicate pastel hues, and low value colors the viewers’ eyes are immediately drawn to the Vendor’s burnt red-orange jacket in the lower left side of the canvas.  Even though this is a somewhat muted hue of burnt red-orange, in comparison to the pastel blue sky; the muted earth tones of the ground; the umber and tan tree bursting into the billowy clouds; and the pale skin of the maid; the jacket stands out and draws the viewer into their world. The maid, clothed in a pale blue dress with matching hair band is holding a large light value green cabbage with a dark hue of green to highlight the shape of the cabbage in her left hand. The amorous couple lounge on a white sheet in the hay as the Vendor displays his produce.  Directly behind the couple is a young girl wearing a cream scarf, a light blue dress with an even lighter value blue hair bonnet resting on the neck of a mule. The mule is richly decorated with fabrics and ornaments of tan, peach-pink, blue and gold. Echoing the peach-pink color are flowers located behind the maid.  Dominating the background of this scene are trees with leaves of a deep hue green on the left and golden leaves closer to the center with tan, brown, and umber branches reaching into the pastel sky overlooking the entire scene.   In the middle ground on the right of the canvas the view is expanded further into this idyllic landscape to encompass the misty blue mountains and a blue-grey water falls flowing over dark gray rocks.  All the elements of color on this canvas create a magical, idyllic yet unachievable world created through art.

The painting’s effect on the viewer is enhanced via the placement of the subjects in the painting. Boucher placed the subjects of the painting in the lower left hand and lower middle ground of the canvas as if they were sitting “down stage” at the theater.  He further enhanced the viewers’ involvement in this dream world by painting his background in an impossibly perfect sky, much like a backdrop at a theater performance. The subjects therefore appear directly in front of the viewer, drawing them in to their Arcadian world.  

Boucher utilized the Baroque diagonals to visually draw the viewers’ attention around the painting. Two on the main diagonals occur in the background with the tip of the mountain on the left of the canvas running diagonally right to the waterfalls of the right mid-ground and the tip of the umber and tan branches in the upper right of the background running down to the left side of the canvas drawing the viewers’ attention back to the subjects and the context of the theme.  While the diagonals draw the viewers’ attention round the painting, the three figures in the painting create a small triangle in the foreground balancing the painting visually.  Additionally balancing the painting are the Vendor’s products including a basket of eggs; various vegetables; a brass and copper pot and pan; two wooden barrels placed on both the right and left of the canvas; goats; and a clay pot on the left are all placed along the foreground directly in front of the subjects. 

Boucher’s response to the desires of the Rococo in France for an idyllic Arcadian world in which to escape was successful in The Vegetable Vendor.  His painting was full of beautiful, yet unattainable visions of the carefree life of the shepherd and shepherdess the aristocrats so craved.  Boucher was a personification of the Rococo and skillfully conveyed the mind-set of his audience.

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