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I'm Jennifer Milam, professor of art history and 18th century studies at the University of

Sydney. I'm very pleased to be here today taking part in this Coursera course Sexing the Canvas
online specifically to talk about the collection of 18th Century art at the National Gallery of
Victoria, which is a real gem of a collection in Australia. There are two particular works that I'm
very interested in telling you about. These are Boucher's pastoral paintings behind me. A pendant
pair which means two works that were created to be displayed together. But also, before we really
start talking about these particular works, I think it's really nice to begin with how these works are
hung here in the collection on either side of a medallion portrait by John Baptist Lemuel of Louis
XV. Because both the paintings and the medallion sculpture are from 1748, which is really at the
height of King Louis XV's time as king. And they epitomise aspects of 18th century French art.
18th century French art is defined by its lightness of touch, by its sense of beauty, also by its
eroticism and connections with themes of love. Louis XV was known as Loius XV The Well-Loved
and this didn't just mean that he was well loved by his people. He also was known to be well loved
by woman. He had several mistresses, the most important of which was Madame de Pompadour,
and Madame de Pompadour was the single most important female patron, of the arts in France. Her
favourite painter was Francois Boucher. Francois Boucher was first painter to the King. He was also
the director of The Academy. The Academy of French Painting and Sculpture, which was a group of
artists who during the time of Louis XIV, who is Louis XV great grandfather, The Academy came
together to establish the rules of painting and sculpture and to talk about the arts and how artists
should be trained and educated. This is important because as we’ll see when we talk more
specifically about these two pastoral works we'll see that Boucher not only follows rules that are
important in the way you display and depict the female body and the male body in scenes of love
and sexuality. But also that he plays with conventions. And this is a very important part of Rococo
art, because as viewers of Rococo painting it relied on very highly skilled viewers who from birth
had been surrounded by extraordinary works of art and had learned how to decode the paintings in
connection with their ideals of sociability and behaviour.
So these two particular works which are pastoral paintings were done in 1748 and are closely
connected to pastoral literature and performances of pastoral plays. Now plays in the 18th century
did not only take place in theatres, not only the official theatres but also the more informal theatres,
the faire theatres, which is where you see these kinds of pastoral plays taking place. But also more
importantly pastoral plays were performed in the private theatres of the nobility. Now, Boucher our
artist worked with a particular playwright named Favart. And Favart had really reformed the comic
opera. He reformed it by taking what in faire theatre conventionally was very bawdy and ribald kind
of performances of sexuality in pantomime, and connected them with refined codes of sociability
that appealed to the nobility. With the idea that the more refined audiences would start coming back
to the theatre. Now Favare and Boucher actually grew up on the same street so their relationship
may go back many years. We don't know how far. But certainly in the 1740s they were
collaborating, and one of the really interesting things about these particular works is that Boucher
may have come up with the ideas that then he painted, and Favart then turned into plays and
performances. Because we often think that paintings are illustrations of literature, but in this case
we know it was at least a collaboration because Boucher was not only already well-known for his
pastoral paintings, but he also did costume design and background, scenic back-drops for pastoral
plays, Favart's in particular. Now, many of these plays are derived from a tradition of pastoral
literature that goes back to the 17th Century. There was a type of Salon culture that was dominated
by women, and the tastes of women, going back to the time of Louis the XIV. By the time of Louis
the XV, women really did set a lot of the standards of taste. Whether it be in the visual arts or in
literature and performances, and more importantly, in the discourse about what refined behaviour
informed all of the visual and literary arts. So, the pastoral plays, just to give you a little bit more
of a sense about what kind of plays these were, first of all there was no dialogue. There were some
songs in the background that everyone knew and told people enough information about what each
of the characters was doing. But, these were really, really simple plots. They were always set in a
golden age, somewhere in a landscape. And they were always about simple stories of love. So there
was a shepherdess and there was a shepherd. And that's what we see in the work on the right.
And there is a little shepherd up above the shepherdess below. Who is giving her a flute lesson.
The work on the left is a second scene, or a subsequent scene, where there is a girl who is asleep
and there is a young man who is not the shepherd, but a young man who is delivering a basket of
flowers from the shepherd as a surprise gift. So when she wakes up, this mysterious basket, which
is the title of the work, has appeared next to her as a gift, a magical gift from her lover. These are
the basic plots. It's always about a simple love story between a shepherd and a shepherdess. Now,
when Favart performed these plays his wife was often the main lead. And that didn't mean she was
the shepherdess, it meant she was the shepherd. So women conventionally played both roles. This is
very important when we start to think about how these particular canvases have been sexed, so to
speak. Because it is quite different from many other eras in which men and women are depicted. So
for example, in the work on the right, you see the shepherd, who's in the red coat, playing, he has
his arms around the young woman and he's helping her play a little flute. Below at her feet is a
crown of flowers, and to her right are the sheep. It’s very important to realise these aren't real
shepherds and shepherdesses that work in the fields. They are ideal shepherds and shepherdesses
who wander around the landscape with their sheep, and think about nothing except love. And so,
the sheep in these particular paintings are always perfectly coiffed. And the really funny thing about
it is that woman in this particular period who had dairies, like Marie Antoinette a little bit later,
would often have sheep and then they would go out in their gardens and walk around with sheep
and they would have these wonderful little pink bows and they would be perfectly shampooed. And
sometimes they were even imported from places like Spain, because you wanted the best type of
perfect sheep. But anyway, in this scene you can see that the shepherdess isn't really engaged with
the sheep. That instead, she's learning her agreeable lesson from her shepherd who is attempting to
woo her. On the right hand side of the painting is a fountain which refers to this longer tradition that
goes back to the 17th century of a fountain of love. So, the scene is very much set as an ideal place
in nature where a shepherd and shepherdess have nothing else to do but play music, lounge around,
and really pursue their love of each other. Now, another important aspect of this is its connection
with aristocratic ways of life. So, the nobility defined themselves also by not working. And at this
point in the 18th century, they also had no real military function anymore. They were courtiers and,
in reality, they spent a great deal of their time pursuing leisure. Leisure was their primary
occupation. And one aspect of that leisure was the pursuit of love. So at this stage in 18th century
France, the pursuit of love was a highly codified way of wooing a woman. And what's important
about that is that in making love to a woman the act of consummation was something that would
end the pleasures. So what you really find in an erotic painting is a coded way of extending the
pleasures of the pursuit of love, not the consummation of love. However, part of the pleasure of
viewing the work is actually the coded play that lets you know that the end result of eroticism is
often the sexual act. So, in the painting itself, one of the things you see at the foot of the young
woman is a crown, a crown of flowers. Now, that of course is a reference to the lover crown. That
when a lover is made the ruler over her lover's heart, she gets a little crown on her head, or she
might give it over to her lover as his crown. However, it also had an erotic meaning, because the
circle of the lover was also a reference to the female body part, the hole, where things go
through. So when you start to actually describe the symbols you start to realise that the sexuality
part of it is something that is very detached from the visual codes that are highly refined
and enjoyed through an understanding of the motif but never expressed directly. Now, another
aspect of that, Is the actual flute. The lesson on which she's getting. Now the flute is very much a
reference to the male penis. And so she's being taught to play it, is another way of being taught how
to play the male sexual part. So these are the types of codes that are built into these works. They are
visual jokes, puns that viewers of the time would have instantly recognised. But part of the pleasure
of that is seeing how the crudeness of sexuality is turned into something that is highly refined
and coded and not understood by everyone, only understood by people within a small elite circle,
who know what the codes mean. Now, I said that I was going to talk a little bit more about
how Boucher confounds conventions of paintings, the rules of paintings in ways that also connect
with issues of gender. Now in The Agreeable Lesson, you see that the male figure is seated above
the female figure. Now that was a convention. Men were the stronger part, so men are always
placed in a dominant position over the female figure. There are some wonderful texts by a student
of Boucher who wrote in a diary about his time in Boucher’s studio. And this young artist's name
was Mannlich and was a very important source for us to know more about what it was like to work
in Boucher’s studio. Boucher had an enormous studio and spent a lot of time. We know that from
Mannlich one of he things that he would do was he would have students make many, many
drawings and Boucher would come in and sign them at the last minute so he could sell them on. So
he always has his eye on the market a little bit. But one of the thing that Mannlich tells us about is
that Boucher's correcting the way that his students depict the female body or draw the female body
when he says that the female body should be approached as if it has no bones at all or hardly any
bones. So, the idea is that they're curved, soft lines. Nothing that's hard or breaks the eye in a way as
it moves around the canvas. So male figure seated in a dominant position. Female figure very
languid, often as if it has no bones, very gently curved. And even more importantly, of a finer
colour, almost like a porcelain white colour, where the male figure has more of a sun-kissed
look. That's really an anachronistic way of saying it. But the male body has more flesh tones. And it
was a way a coding the male figure versus the female figure. So some of this is through position,
and some of it is through colour, and other aspects of it are through the actual line that the figure Is
painted with. Now, we see this additionally in The Mysterious Basket. And The Mysterious Basket
has a very different kind of male figure. He does not look like the shepherd. So, with the shepherd
and shepherdess you almost get the feeling like they're very similar figures. They have a different
colour and a different position, but it's almost as if they could be swapped. They wear different
clothes, so we know one is the shepherd, but really their facial features, the refined body lines all
really kind of confuse gender differences. Now that is not the case with The Mysterious Basket. You
get the lovely shepherdess who's fallen asleep, but you get the figure, the more rustic figure, who is
delivering the basket. Now this is an important way in terms of the way Boucher has depicted
that figure to show up that he is a rustic. He's not a shepherd, he's a rustic. He's a rustic who does a
favour for the shepherd but it's the shepherd who is the stand-in for the noble man.
And so, that figure is much more to our eyes masculine. He has a very bulging muscles.
Especially as you see as he hands down the basket you can see the ripples and veins. You see a
much fleshier and kind of physicality to his figure that we don't see with The Shepherd. Now that is
partly a class distinction. So, we're not only seeing more of a difference between a male and female
figure, we're also seeing a difference of refinement. He is a crude character, whereas the
shepherdhess is a highly refined character who is standing in for the noble woman or the elite,
refined woman. Now, these works, Boucher in particular, was often criticised when pastoral scenes
were put on view at the public Salons. And like I said earlier in this piece, these works really were
intended for noble viewers, or at least very high ranking members of the bourgeoisie. And so the
way that these kind of coded meanings were understood was by people who really were looking
for a kind of pastoral version of themselves that they understood and recognised. When they were
put on view at the Salons, they were seen somewhat as misleading and dangerous because they
represented sexuality as having absolutely no consequences. So you might learn to play the a flute,
but there's no suggestion that that can lead to any sort of moral downfall.
So when you get into the public space of the Salon, the Salon being the place where art exhibitions
take place every two years in Paris and are known to be, or at least considered to be, one of the first
truly public spaces in Europe. We have descriptions of the crowd there being described as the fish
monger's wife, the perfumes of fish monger's wife mixed with the perfumes of the lady of court. So
everyone was in equal in this space, but works were understood in different ways. So some critics
of Boucher in addressing works like the Agreeable Lesson, talked about how it was very finely
painted, but there was a bit of a problem because the male figure didn't look masculine
enough, partly in response to that, Boucher then when he approaches making some male characters
makes them look very masculine, but it is in the context of telling a particular story. Now less
friendly critics, because the ones who talk about the particular formal qualities of the work, were
more friendly to Boucher. They came out of the academy. But one of the things that happens in the
public spaces of Salon is you get writers. You get the first professional art critics, one of whom is a
man named Denis Diderot, who was one of the founding editors of the Encyclopaedia, the big
enlightenment project, which was about really establishing knowledge. Now, Diderot wrote some
really amusing Salon criticism, and he didn't like Boucher's work. He thought it was morally
degenerate, that it challenged the moral integrity of the family. There are many reasons why he
didn't like it. But in one of the later Salons, almost 20 years later, when Boucher was still displaying
a lot of these pastoral works, Diderot says, When am I ever going to be rid of these damn
pastorals? The man exists and paints so he can show me tits and ass.
Those are Diderot's words roughly translated.
But, Diderot's real problem with these kinds of works was that young women, unsuspecting young
women, would come and linger in front of these coded paintings about sexuality and not realise that
there was some sort of price to be paid for the pleasures of love. And when we go into the drawing
room, I'll be able to show you some more didactic narrative displays of that kind of depiction of
eroticism and sexuality in 18th century art.

We've come down to the prints and drawing study room at the National Gallery of Victoria, which
has absolutely, without question, the best collection of European drawings in the Southern
Hemisphere. Works like this, which is a pastel of Madame de Pompadour, certainly are works that
rival some of the best collections in North America. This is a real gem of the collection, in terms of
the 18th century French works. Could be one of the best 18th century French works of art in
Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a pastel by Francois Boucher of Madame de
Pompadour, who I mentioned earlier was the mistress, the official mistress of Louis XV.
Very interesting woman. She was from the bourgeoisie rather than from the nobility, and she was
ennobled by the King when she was made his official mistress, so that she could be presented at
court. It was somewhat scandalous at the time, but nonetheless, she was a woman who was known
for her beauty and for her intelligence. Very clever woman on top of that. Appointed, or had the
king appoint her uncle and her brother to positions of importance within the arts.
They became directors of the king's buildings, which meant that they were responsible for all of the
works of art that were commissioned to go in places like Versailles or the Louvre. If the king was
going to renovate any of the rooms, the directeur de bâtiments, which would have been Madame de
Pompadour's brother at the time, would have been the person who really made all of the final
decisions. So extremely powerful men in the arts who where connected to Madame de
Pompadour. So this was somewhat controversial at the time, because she was seen to be not only a
woman, but also a member of the bourgeoisie who was exerting so much influence over the king,
over matters of taste at court. Because her taste was seen as something, or she was something of a
taste-maker I guess we would say today. Now, pastels are really something that artists who are very
skilled, like Boucher, excelled at in this period. Now they were works of art in their own right, not
done as preparatory drawings, but meant to be more intimate kinds of works of art that were
collected by elite people, who really had taste. And also expertise in things like collecting drawings
rather than paintings that would be used more decoratively. Now Madame de Pompadour,
interestingly enough, was also an amateur artist herself. She took lessons in drawings and print
making with Boucher. So in this particular pastel portrait of Madame de Pompadour, who we see in
the middle here. Beautifully represented with her head and her bust, much like the king's bust,
Medallion that we saw earlier in this particular class. We see Madame de Pompadour in a crown of
roses, but also framed by roses. Also framed by little putti, these little flying cherubs that come out
of 17th century art in particular. But below her what you see are references to her taste in the
arts. Not just sculpture and painting, you can see there's a little head, sculpted head. And also an
artist pallet and brushes, but also scripts of music, scrolls and a book. So she's a woman of taste and
learning.
Now, the way that it's represented, also you might be able to see here, some of the hatching on the
little cherubs, which is this fine lines, parallel lines that create their fleshiness, which contrasts with
the very fine edges, light edges, that really draw out Madame de Pompadour herself. So by being
placed by the medallion of her portrait, being placed on top of these references or attributes, to the
visual arts and music, she's also shown as a woman of beauty. And the use of all of the flowers, the
roses, the rosebuds emphasise her femininity. Now, another element of Rococo art which we haven't
discussed so much yet in this piece, is the fact that the colours or the palette that Rococo
artists, 18th Century French artists use, tended to be pastel colours. So light pinks, blues, greens and
sometimes yellows, those hues that are extremely delicate. So in this work we have the colours that
come out of the medium, the handling of the medium which is delicate and adds to the reception of
Madame de Pompadour as a delicate refined woman of taste and learning. So this is a really
exceptional piece made by Boucher about ten years after the pastel landscapes that we saw
upstairs. That positions him really as the most important artist at court, working for Madame de
Pompadour, the most influential woman of taste in the court of Louis XIV. And we have this
wonderful work, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. And if you come here you
must make an appointment to see this particular work, because it is rare, and it is significant. While
we move on, I want to go back to the question of sexuality in narrative, moved away from a
gendered treatment of a particular female sitter in this pastel work.

This work is an engraving, which is a type of print, created by Jean-Honore Fragonard or Fragonard
who was a student of Boucher, and then went on to have an extremely successful career on his own,
but interestingly, coming really into his own about 20 years later than Boucher. He was able to have
an unofficial career. Which meant that while he had joined the academy as a student member, he
never was fully admitted into the academy, because he didn't submit the final work that would have
allowed him to be a full member. And part of the reason for that was that he was able to have a
successful career outside of court circles.
One of the ways that Fragonard is able to have that type of career is not only through creating really
famous paintings like Happy Hazards of the Swing, which is in the Wallace Collection, but also by
producing a number of prints for the print market, which was very different than the kinds of people
who bought paintings. Prints were really accessible to a more middle class audience who did buy
prints to hang in their own homes. Now, as I mentioned when we were upstairs in the paintings
gallery, looking at the Boucher's. One of the things that was of concern to Enlightenment writers
and critics who are concerned with the moral integrity of society were those kind of vaguely
sexualised paintings without any sort of ethical conclusion. That we saw with Boucher's pastoral
images. This design or drawing that was done by Fragonard and then would have been turned into
an engraving by a professional engraver, although Fragonard himself did do a lot of etching and
engraving work on his own, would have been made with the idea that this would be a narrative
print that had a story that could be understood by audiences
that weren't as well versed in some of the coded references that we saw with Boucher. Most
importantly, this work, which is done around 1778 is a work that can be appreciated by multiple
levels of audiences. So what we have here, this is called The Armoire, is a bedroom scene. You can
see the armoire is the cupboard that the young man is standing in with the door open. We have his
lover on the left hand side. The young woman who's looking very sad and upset. We have her angry
parents. We can read all of this into the scene. Who have discovered the lover, who was hiding in
the armoire. The bed you can see through this open backdrop space, it's unmade, they've been doing
something in that bed area. Other people are rushing in through the door to see what's happening, to
enjoy the action and the drama of the scene. And one of the things that I also really like, in the right
hand side is a little boy and a little girl who are learning from the scene not to make these kinds of
mistakes. They may not understand the full sexuality of the narrative, but they understand that these
two young people have been caught doing something that they shouldn't have been doing. So now
how do we read the sexuality of this narrative? As I said, there is an unmade bed. There's the rush
of the older couple, who we interpret as being the parents, who've come upon this very sad-looking
young man who's been caught, and we see his hat. Now the hat is the code that connects back up
with the Boucher's that we saw earlier. Now he has got one hand that is very carefully
and obviously holding onto the outside of the armoire. The other hand you can't see, which is a little
bit decorous, but it's very important that that hat is being held up not obviously by a hand, perhaps
not by a hand at all. Something else, another part of this young man's body, is holding up that
hat. Now that also is a code because the hat has been known, the hat that's off the young man's head,
has been known as the part, that opening of the hat, is the part that fits on the head just as the, see
it's always hard to talk decorously about these kinds of things. But as the hat sits on the head, so the
female part of the body and the male part of the body fit together in a similar way. There's a lot of
erotic literature. That uses this kind of coded devices that talk about the hat and how it sits right on
the head. So this is the kind of coded reference that goes straight back to the same kinds of codes
that that we saw with Boucher, but here it has been used in a narrative that easily read by viewers
and it also is connected to an end of the story which is not quite as positive. We have remorse at
being caught, and we have a young woman who's very sad at having what is probably lost her
virginity in the scene. So you read it from right to left and seeing the unfolding of the scene, but
really because the figures in the foreground, you also then read back from left to right. To
understand, you see the sadness, the remorse of the figures, the rush of the parents, the dog here
who's ferreted out the naughty boy. And the whole scene comes together so we see it as
sexuality that has been consummated and then sexuality that has been reprimanded because it's
outside of marriage and the family. So we've really come to the end of the Rococo. Where you see
Rococo artists, 18th Century French artists responding to more middle class values and creating
scenes that present a kind of narrative story to middle class audiences that is easily able to be
interpreted but built into those are still references back to those coded sexual or erotic motifs that
also entertain elite viewers who are familiar with Boucher's paintings and see a sort of continuity
from the early Rococo stages into its final stages prior to, about 10 years prior to the revolution.