A Franco-Flemish double-manual harpsichord, originally a 'transposing' harpsichord made in Antwerp in 1617, possibly by Frans van Huffel.  It was given a bass ravalement in Paris in 1750 by François Étienne Blanchet and it was later given a treble ravalement in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann.

 

 

The painting of the recumbent nude on the outside of the lid.

 

                 

 

Recumbent Female Nude, François Boucher, 1742-1743

Horvitz Collection, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

As Jessica Priebe has pointed out privately, the placing of both of the arms and legs, and the muscle definition in the front arm, the bare breast and back, the modelling of the buttocks and the close proximity of the front hand to the neck are all similar to Boucher's figure of The Blonde Odalisque (above). Other similarities can be seen in the placement of the drapery and the non direct gaze of her face (compared to the fixed gaze of the Odalisque paintings also attributed to Boucher).  On the other hand, as Alastair Laing has pointed out, both this pastel and the even earlier painting of the Odalisque Brun seen below are both much earlier than the period when Marie-Louise O'Murphy entered the King's service, and so they can have nothing whatsoever to do with her.

 

Painting of a recumbent female nude, probably by one of François Boucher's pupils or workshop assistants in about.1753-1755.  This figure was added after the initial ravalement and main decoration of the instrument was carried out in 1750. 

This painting is on the outside of the lid of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord.  It is positioned to the right of the figures of Flora and Juno on the main section of the lid towards the tail.  The painting of this figure, however, is very impasto in its technique with recognisably-different flesh tones from the rest of the Boucher figures.  It does not seem to be by the same painter as the figures of Venus and Cupid on the lid flap, and of Flora and Juno just to the left of this figure.  Also the face does not display any of Boucher's usual distortions and exaggerations in its feature.  It certainly represents Louis XV's petite maîtresse Marie-Louise O'Murphy, recognisable at the time through such images as that on the left and the one below which were widely-circulated in the Paris salons at the time.  So this image would have been instantly recognisable after 1753 as Louis XV's petite maîtresse Marie-Louise O'Murphy..

 

 

Painting of the so-called Brown Odalisque by François Boucher, c.1740.  Although similar, modern research has shown that this is NOT a painting of Marie-Louise O'Murphy.

Das Alte Pinakothek, Munich

 

          The beautiful chalk drawing at the above and to the left is by François Boucher (1703-1770) who was born, worked and died in Paris.  Boucher was a painter, engraver, and designer and his paintings epitomize the Roccoco period.  His career was enormously successful and he received many honours, becoming Director of the Gobelin factory in 1755 and then becoming both Director of The Académie and The King's Painter in 1765.  He was also the favourite artist of Louis XV's most famous grande maîtresse en titre Madame La Marquise de Pompadour, to whom he gave lessons and whose portrait he painted several times (Wallace Collection, London; National Gallery, Edinburgh; Alte Pinakothek, Munich; Rothschild Collection, Vienna; etc.).

          The close resemblance of the three figures seen above strongly suggests that the painting on the outside of the main lid and seen here at the top right is also by Boucher.  Clearly the top two figures are of the same model with the same position, pose, modelling, etc in both pictures.  However, it is clear from painting-layer analysis that the painting above and to the right on the outside of the lid of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord is a later addition to the rest of the paintings on the lid of the harpsichord: the paint is thick and pasty, with a definite 'texture' not found on any of the rest of the paintings attributed to Boucher.  The painting of the face in particular is not typical of those usually painted by Boucher.  Boucher's figures usually have un-naturally widely-spaced eyes and a very wide forehead.  Although still only partly cleaned the figure has none of the delicacy of the other nude or semi-nude figures on the rest of instrument, and the flesh tones are noticeably different.  It seems as though this figure was added sometime later, after the other figures had already been painted onto the top of the lid by Boucher.

       

          There are other drawings or paintings by Boucher similar to those painted around 1742/3.  Whatever the case, the painting on the harpsichord lid is post 1750 and so clearly only the post 1750 Boucher paintings are are relevant here.

 

          However who, other than Louis XV, would have had the King's mistress painted on their harpsichord?  It seems impossible to think that anyone would risk the ire of the King by having an image of the King's mistress painted on their instrument!  This makes it likely, or at the very least least possible, that the instrument belonged to Louis XV himself!  His mistress Marie-Louise O'Murphy (Omorfi as it was transcribed in French with a built-in Irish accent) did not become his mistress until about 1752/3 so that it is quite possible that Louis XV (or Madame de Pompadour) had Ms O'Murphy painted onto the instrument at about this time and after the initial vernis martin decoration was given to the rest of the instrument by Boucher and Huet in 1750.

 

  

 

Important Features of this harpsichord

 

A brief history of the musical and decorative states of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord

 

Details of the original state of the instrument

 

Details of the eighteenth-century states of this harpsichord

  

 Details of the modern history of this harpsichord

 

 Problems encountered in the ethical restoration of this harpsichord

 

 The attributions of the 1750 state to  François Étienne Blanchet, Christophe Huet and François Boucher

 

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This page was last revised on 03 February 2018.