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“The Setting of the Sun” by François Boucher

"The Setting of the Sun" by François Boucher

“The Setting of the Sun” by François Boucher

“The Setting of the Sun” by François Boucher is a pair with “The Rising of the Sun.” and depicts the god Apollo returning to the arms of the nymph Tethys, bringing dusk along with him.

According to Ovid, the sun god Apollo drove his sun chariot, drawn by four white horses, across the sky during the day, bringing light to the earth. At nightfall, he would return with his chariot to Tethys and sink back beneath the waves in the evening.

The bodies of nymphs and naiads populate the foreground of both canvases. The bodies in the painting overlap with one another to create a series of curves that are echoed in the forms of the waves. 

In Greek mythology, Tethys was the daughter of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth), she was the mother of the river gods and the Oceanids. 

The two works were intended as a model for the production of a set of tapestries, commissioned Madame de Pompadour.

The tapestries were produced from the paintings and completed in 1754-1755 then hung in the King XV’s bedroom at château de Bellevue. 

Sun King

Louis XIV was the first of the French Kings to encourage the title of “Sun King” because he employed the theme of the chariot of Apollo at Versailles to suggest that he was the new Apollo.

King Louis XIV chose the sun as his personal symbol, and he enjoyed comparing himself to Apollo, the Greek god of the sun.

Apollo was one of the Olympian deities in classical Greek religion and mythology. Apollo was recognized as a god of the Sun, the light, and much more.

He was the son of Zeus, and the twin brother of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. He was considered the most beautiful of the gods and the ideal of the kouros (athletic youth). 

Iconographically ‘The Setting of the Sun’ is a grand reworking of the “Sun King” theme, where the subject of Apollo returning to his beloved is now associated with Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour.

Art historians have interpreted the depiction of the nymph, Thetis, as symbolizing Madame de Pompadour.

The nymph Thetis who aided the sun god Apollo in his voyage across the sky represented  Madame de Pompadour, who had an active role as a political advisor in the King’s court.

The decorative nature of this composition was essential for the design of tapestries, which would adorn and complement a luxurious country chateau.

Louis XV of France

Louis XV (1710 – 1774) reigned almost 59 years, making him the second-longest in the history of France. He was exceeded only by his predecessor and great-grandfather, Louis XIV, the original “Sun King” who had ruled for 72 years.

He was succeeded in 1774 by his grandson Louis XVI, who was executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. Two of his other grandsons, occupied the throne of France after the fall of Napoleon I.

History does not rate his reign highly, especially with the corruption in the court and the wars that drained the treasury and set the stage for the French Revolution of 1789.

Rococo

Rococo was an exuberantly decorative 18th-century European style. It exaggerated the principles of illusion and theatricality.

The ornament was achieved with asymmetry, fluid curves, and the use of pastel colors with gilding.

The Rococo style of architecture and decoration began in France, in the reign of Louis XV as a reaction against the more formal and geometric.

François Boucher

François Boucher was a French painter who worked in the Rococo style. Boucher is known for his idyllic and voluptuous paintings and was perhaps the most celebrated painter and decorative artist of the 18th century. 

Boucher often took inspiration from Peter Paul Rubens and Antoine Watteau, and importantly, for the time, Marquise de Pompadour (mistress of King Louis XV) was a great admirer of his work.

As a result, Boucher painted several portraits of his patroness, Madame de Pompadour, who is often called the “godmother of Rococo.”

The Setting of the Sun

  • Title:                The Setting of the Sun
  • Français:          Coucher du Soleil
  • Artist:              François Boucher
  • Date:               1752
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 321 cm (10.5 ft); Width: 270 cm (106.2 in)
  • Museum:        The Wallace Collection

François Boucher

The Setting of the Sun by François Boucher

The mistresses of Louis XV at the Palace of Versailles

Virtual Tour of the Wallace Collection

Francois Boucher

The Sun King

Louis XIV: The Sun King

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“This vision is within our grasp.”
– Francois Boucher

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Photo Credit 1) François Boucher [Public domain]

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