OBERLIN, OH.- The Allen Memorial Art Museum presents in the East Gallery is a magnificent 18th-century French painting by François Boucher (1703 - 70), Allegory of the Education of Louis XV, painted in about 1756, which entered the AMAM collection in late 2007.
Allegory is a grisaille (a painting done entirely in shades of grey, black, and white) which was often used by Boucher as a preliminary sketch for later, larger color compositions. The AMAM painting, however, is a sketch Boucher prepared as part of a series of engravings depicting episodes in the life of King Louis XV (1710 - 74). Using the allegorical guise of the sea-nymph Thetis presenting her son Achilles to the centaur Chiron, who tutored the young hero, the painting represents the moment when the young Louis XV, age 7, was removed from the care of his female governess and given over into the care of men. Hovering behind the muscular centaur are Fame and Athena, goddess of wisdom. Above is a delightful chorus of 7 putti with copiously dimpled flesh, supporting garlands around empty spaces. In the final print, these spaces held depictions of the obverse and reverse of a medallion, showing the king and a scene from the Aeneid that alludes to the education of the young ruler.
Boucher holds an unparalleled place among 18th-century artists, and has been seen since the 19th century as the artist who most embodied the taste and style of 18th-century art. He excelled in painting, drawing and printmaking (as well as tapestry and procelain design) and was especially known for the virtuosity and freedom of his draftsmanship. This is evident in the AMAM's work, executed at a time when Boucher was at the height of his artistic powers and popularity. He was the favorite painter of Madame de Pompadour, mistress to the king, and held the important positions of First Painter to the King and Director of the Royal Academy. The new Boucher painting joins the AMAM's other distinguished works from the late 17th and early 18th centuries in France, by Coypel, Patel, Pater, Chardin, Nattier, Oudry, and Lagrenée.