François Boucher
French, 1703–1770
Are They Thinking about the Grape? (Pensent-ils au raisin?)
1747

Oil on canvas
Oval, 80.8 x 68.5 cm (31 3/4 x 27")
f. Boucher 1747 (bottom, right of center)
Martha E. Leverone Endowment, 1973.304

Inspired in part by Jean-Antoine Watteau’s fête galante paintings, François Boucher revived the pastoral theme in French painting, specializing in images of shepherds and shepherdesses as rustic lovers. Boucher was a master of many types of painting—portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and especially mythological subjects, often with erotic content. He rose from a humble background to achieve great success in the Parisian art world as First Painter to King Louis XV in 1765.

Are They Thinking about the Grape?—a bucolic scene inspired by an 18th-century Parisian play—illustrates a moment in which a love-struck shepherd and shepherdess exchange grapes picked in an unseen vineyard. Sexual innuendoes, driven home by the title, underpin the apparent innocence of the couple’s encounter. The contrast between the couple’s rustic origins and their luxurious versions of country dress demonstrates Boucher’s ability to create a world suspended between fantasy and reality. Rustic themes correspond to a current in 18th-century French thought that advocated a return to nature, a concept consistent with the regard for natural law and natural rights espoused by Rousseau and other Enlightenment thinkers. The fashion for emulating peasant life even permeated the royal court, where Marie Antoinette donned country garb and strolled through the grounds of Versailles.

A royal Swedish architect commissioned a second version of Are They Thinking about the Grape? in 1747. Beyond differences in shape (the Swedish version is rectangular, compared to the oval Chicago canvas), there are variations in content. In the Art Institute’s painting, a young boy and small cluster of sheep rest on the left. In the Swedish version, Boucher replaced the boy and sheep with a view of a river and hamlet. Both paintings, with their pastel palettes, painterly brushwork, and themes, are exceptionally fine examples of the popular pastoral genre in the Rococo mode that Boucher perfected.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes
Spanish, 1746–1828
Boy on a Ram
1786/87
Oil on canvas
50 1/16 x 44 1/8 in. (127.2 x 112.1 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks McCormick, 1979.479

Between 1775 and 1792 Goya created over 60 tapestry cartoons for the Spanish royal residences. Boy on a Ram is related to a series of tapestries that illustrates the four seasons. The painting symbolizes spring: an aristocratic boy costumed in a matador’s suit is happily riding a ram that represents Aries, one of the astrological signs of the season. Raising a stick in his right hand and swinging his legs, the boy urges the ram forward, while the animal stands stubbornly with his feet planted. Goya’s early works, such as this one, are Rococo in style. The colors and the mood of the painting are light. In his mature works, Goya’s palette became much darker and his subjects more serious (see Friar Pedro de Zaldivia Shoots the Bandit Maragato).

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