The Waterfalls at Tivoli
Black and white chalk on blue paper
Inv. No. 1217
32.1 × 43.9 cm
For his drawing of the waterfalls at Tivoli, François Boucher availed himself of the same technique – black and white chalk on blue paper – used by Hyacinthe Rigaud at around the same time for his portrait drawing. The effect, however, is quite different. Whereas Rigaud defines his subjects with elegant lucidity and the most subtle differentiation of materials and textures, Boucher evokes a mood, showing us a scene in which the structures of the rocks, vegetation and cascading water are suggestively interwoven. It is only gradually, but then with all the more intensity, that the eye takes in the movement of the water, the boulders in the midst of its swirls, the mist rising from its surface, and other details. François Boucher came from a modest background but was to work his way up to become the leading court painter of the Rococo period, the era of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour, an admirer and connoisseur of art. Together with a companion piece now in the Rijksprentenkabinet in Amsterdam, this drawing of the Tivoli waterfalls was executed in Boucher’s early years during a journey he made to Italy between 1728 and 1731. Although he was not in receipt of one of the highly desirable and fiercely contested scholarships, he nevertheless maintained close contact with the Académie de France in Rome, whose director at the time was Nicolas Vleughels. Vleughels encouraged young artists to undertake landscape studies directly from nature, possibly thus prompting Boucher to carry out his large-scale drawings of the magnificent waterfalls in the hills to the east of Rome. The falls had already held great fascination for landscape painters of the seventeenth century. What seems remarkable about the work in the Städel Museum collection is not only the young artist’s discipline and his carefully thoughtout drawing technique, but also his approach to the subject: he depicts the famous view not as something overwhelming, but as a cultivated, sensuous experience.