François Boucher (Paris 1703 - 1770)
Earth: Vertumnus and Pomona, 1749
Oil on canvas, 86.8 cm x 136.2 cm
Signed and dated: f Boucher 1749
Vertumnus and Pomona was painted for Louis XV as one of four pictures symbolizing the elements; they were destined for the Château de la Muette. Boucher completed only two, Vertumnus and Pomona (Earth) and Arion on the Dolphin (Water). It would appear that the Crown never took delivery of them, for in 1786 they appeared in the sale of the art collections of Jacques-Onésyme Bergeret, a rich fermier-général who was one of Boucher’s principal patrons.
Since the story of Vertumnus and Pomona was well-known to Boucher’s public and its symbolsic aptness to Earth self-evident, there is no need to seek a specific source in classical literature. The immediate inspiration for Vertumnus and Pomona was, in fact, not classical but contemporary. On 15 January, 1749 La Terre, ou Vertumne & Pomone, the fourth act of Les Eléments, a ballet with words by Roi and music by Destouches, was performed in the Théâtre des Petits Cabinets at de Rohan. The Duc de la Vallière’s Dictionnaire de Ballets, Opéra et autres Ouvrages lyriques (Paris, 1760) fails, as usual, to record the name of the designer, but at this date it can only have been Boucher. The features of Pomona in his young nymphs whom he habitually painted - very unlike, for instance, the robust brunette’s in his Vertumnus and Pomona of 1758 (California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Fransisco). The broad, smooth forehead, small round chin and heavy-lidded eyes of Pomona in the 1749 picture indicate that this is a portrait of Mme Pompadour, somewhat generalized, as the mythological subject demands, but still very much as she appears in her early portraits. The resemblance is curiously intensified in Saint-Aubin’s engraving after the painting (1765).