In 1745 Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson Le Normant d’Etioles, the married daughter of a minor and rather shady bureaucrat, was officially appointed maîtresse en titre – mistress to Louis XV. She was twenty-four years old. Installed at the court of Versailles, she also acquired a new title –
Madame la Marquise de Pompadour. Though dubbed ‘La Bourgeoise’ by her aristocratic peers, her charismatic bearing and cheerful openness soon won her friends and the lasting respect of social and political adversaries at court.
Madame de Pompadour became France’s most important patron of the arts. Discerning, though wildly extravagant, she lavished dazzling sums from her personal allowance upon projects and commissions from many of the leading artists, designers and artisans of the day. Her influential brother, the Marquis de Marigny, Director-General of the King’s Buildings, also provided further subsidy and ongoing official support for his sister’s passionate involvement with the arts.
Madame de Pompadour was a stalwart patron and admirer of François Boucher between 1747 and her death in 1764. This allegorical portrait, commissioned by the Marquis de Marigny in 1754, celebrates that patronage and the diversity of her interests. She is depicted surrounded by a garland of flowers supported by three putti. Scattered at the base of the design are the symbolic attributes of the arts she so enthusiastically supported – painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, writing and music. The artifice of the composition and elegance of Boucher’s draughtsmanship characterize the features of Rococo design.
Text by Nick Williams from Prints and Drawings in the International Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 66.