In-depth Discussion: François Boucher

Read between the lines: These Rococo paintings by François Boucher (1703–1770) are not as innocent as they might seem.

The Rococo was a period known for its double entendres (so these works might be most appropriate for your mature high school students). Paintings were commissioned for a patron’s pleasure and to show off tongue-in-cheek cleverness.

Boucher’s The Exchange of Produce and The Cherry Gatherers, showing peasant lovers in rustic settings, are prime examples of these kinds of frivolous, pretty paintings. For example, in The Exchange of Produce, above, the farm girl offers the young man an egg for the bunch of grapes he is holding; nesting doves in the background further emphasize risqué symbolism.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has a painting by one of Boucher’s most famous students, Jean-Honore Fragonard, in its Collection. You can find it in Gallery 8, and compare it to Boucher’s work.

Discussion Question

  • Boucher’s painting depicts one thing on the surface, but is really saying something else. Have your students think about today’s media, which often does the same thing. What advertisements can they think of that say one thing, but really mean another? This could be linked to a unit on analyzing today’s media. (Here is a great TED-ED video about exactly that topic.)