François Boucher, Gezicht op de watervallen bij Tivoli met de tempel van de Sybille / Ansicht der Wasserfälle von Tivoli mit dem Tempel der Sibylle, 1730, weiße und schwarze Kreide auf blauem Papier, 315 x 420 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Inv. Nr. RP-T-1953-191
When drawing 'The Waterfalls of Tivoli', François Boucher employed the same technique - namely black and white chalk on blue paper - which Hyacinthe Rigaud had used at about the same time for his portrait drawing. The effect, however, is completely different. While Rigaud defines his objects with elegant clarity and the finest material differentiation, Boucher creates an atmospheric picture in which the structures of rock, vegetation and cascading water are suggestively interwoven. Only slowly, though all the more intensively, does the eye perceive the movement of the water as it swirls around the rocks, the rising mist on the water and other details.
Boucher came from a humble background and would eventually work his way up to become the leading court painter of the Rococo age, the era of Louis XV and his art-loving mistress, Madame de Pompadour. 'The Waterfalls of Tivoli' was created - together with a companion work which is today in the Rijksprentenkabinet in Amsterdam - during Boucher's early period, while he was in Italy, a trip the artist undertook between 1728 and 1731. He did not possess the coveted and hotly contested status of scholar, but was in close contact with the Académie de France in Rome, whose director at the time was Nicolas Vleughels. Vleughels encouraged young painters to produce landscape studies outdoors. This may be why Boucher recorded in large-format drawings the magnificent waterfalls in the mountains east of Rome, which were already a main destination of landscape painters in the seventeenth century. What seems remarkable about the sheet in the Städel Museum is not only the discipline and considered approach to drawing which the young Boucher displayed; it is also one in which the famous picturesque view is depicted not as overpowering, but rather as a cultivated experience for the senses.