Artist: François Boucher (French, Paris 1703–1770 Paris)
Medium: Gouache over black chalk underdrawing, on paper, mounted on canvas
Dimensions: 16 1/4 x 11 in. (41.3 x 27.9 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, David T. Schiff Gift, and Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, 1997
Accession Number: 1997.95
Known for graceful mythologies and charming scenes of rustic genre, Boucher produced relatively few religious paintings for a history painter of his standing. Those he did make were typically of an intimate scale intended for private devotion. These small paintings are quintessential expressions of the Rococo idiom, typified by lithe, elegant figures, a lush handling of the medium, and a preference for compositions based on the arabesque. Here, in the rustic subject of the Adoration of the Shepherds, Flemish painting and the oil sketches of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione are recalled, but in Boucher's hands the subject takes on a lightness and delicacy that distinguishes it from such sources.
Although similar in composition to an altarpiece of the same subject commissioned just before 1750 by Madame de Pompadour, the famed mistress of King Louis XV, this sketch was likely painted at a later date as an independent work. In both the completed altarpiece and this sketch Boucher uses a transient golden light radiating out from the celestial opening to anchor his composition. The heavenly light falls upon the Christ child, and the adoring onlookers cast vibrant, translucent shadows. Boucher skillfully explores the richness of light and color especially apparent in the opaque, creamy clouds and the surprising dabs of red paint in the flesh tones of the Virgin and Child.