The gallant peddler

<em>The gallant peddler</em>

To close

Title: The gallant peddler

Author : BUTCHER François (1703 - 1770)

Creation date : around 1743 [?]

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 161 cm - Width 161 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on canvas

Storage place: Baron-Martin museum (Gray) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais / Christian Jean

Picture reference: 86-001824-02 / GR-93-110

© RMN - Grand Palais / Christian Jean

Publication date: January 2015

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

In 1734, François Boucher received the order for a series of paintings for the tapestries of the Beauvais factory. The gallant peddler, also called Curiosity, probably belongs to this series. The large square format is due to the need to make a large size pattern for the licier craftsmen who weave and make the tapestries.

Born in 1703, François Boucher got to know painting very early on through contact with his father, Nicolas Boucher, master painter and draftsman at the Saint-Luc Academy. In 1721, he joined the studio of François Lemoyne, then multiplied the work of engraving, with scenes that were regularly inspired by the works of Jean-Antoine Watteau. Five years later, he set off to explore the Eternal City with the painters Van Loo. This journey has a lasting influence on his works, which often use antique settings and Italian landscapes.

Returning to France in 1731, Boucher was accredited as a painter of history with the Academy. This is how he responds to the request made by the painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry, the new director of the Beauvais factory.

This work deserves to be compared to other paintings of similar composition for the realization of tapestries: The Bohemian, The Fisherwoman, The Young Mother with Two Children. The theme of hawking is also used in another scene by Boucher for the Beauvais factory, Dance.

Image Analysis

The composition is organized around three planes. At the bottom of the painting, a dark plant scene, with tree trunks, directs the gaze towards the central part, occupied by a group of five figures unpacking products. In the background, a monumental staircase creates a game of perspective and gives access to a fountain where a cherub fights with a sea monster.

The painter represents characters in period costume, in the heart of a landscape setting inspired by Antiquity. The fabrics are varied and very colorful, reflecting the sartorial evolution of the century. Placed in the center of the painting, the peddler is the main character.

The two buyers get the full attention of the painter and the seller. Dressed and styled with care, their faces are flooded with light. The artist exaggerates the amount of blush, in order to convey a feeling of embarrassment and excitement in the discovery of objects. Dressed in a long coat and buckled shoes, the peddler unwraps his merchandise with determination. He holds out a small bottle which is seized with delicacy and curiosity by one of the young girls. An assistant puts his hand on a drawer lined with objects: ribbons, fans and small silk bags that probably hide alluring outfits and lace fabrics.

The peddler leans on one of two chests, called bullets, which include numerous drawers and leather straps for carrying them. He is helped by two young ball carriers. One of them, placed in the shade, participates in the sale, while the second rests, leaning on a ball, his gaze receding.


With this painting, the artist exploits the artistic codes that form a style that characterizes him: the pastoral. Françoise Joulie evokes "the success met by Boucher in this kind of poem painted". The painter offers a mixed composition, with a genre scene influenced by Watteau and a theatrical setting presenting a wide chromatic palette. Thereafter, Boucher made frequent use of these two registers, until his death in Paris in 1770.

François Boucher's painting participates in multiplication, in the XVIIIe century, representations dedicated to small trades. He discusses the economy of hawking, a small itinerant trade based on the multiplicity of trips through the provinces of the kingdom. This activity, which requires permanent travel from one country to another, is regularly criticized and viewed with suspicion. In reality, this painting evokes the social role of the peddler, a great traveler par excellence, who transports his goods through all the provinces of the kingdom. Certain regions such as Savoy or the Rhine valley specialize in this type of business that creates social ties.

François Boucher reveals the know-how of the seller, as well as the boards of theEncyclopedia de Diderot and d'Alembert focus on the tools of craftsmen. This hawker specializes in haberdashery, but many other goods are sold on this business model: small hardware items, pictures, popular literature from the Blue Library, censored books, etc. In the words of Daniel Roche, these merchants are also "peddlers of culture", to the point of making them a decisive activity for the circulation of ideas, the dissemination of information and the development of public opinion in the end. XVIIIe century.

  • Trip
  • small trades
  • childhood
  • fashion


COLLECTIVE, François Boucher (1703-1770), cat. exp. (New York, Detroit, Paris, 1986-1987), Paris, Ministry of Culture and Communication / National Museums Meeting, 1986.FONTAINE Laurence, History of peddling (15th-19th century), Paris, Albin Michel, coll. "The Evolution of Humanity", 1993.JOULIE Françoise, François Boucher: fragments of a vision of the world, cat. exp. (Holte, 2012), Paris, Somogy / Holte, Gammel Holtegaard, 2013.JOULIE Françoise, MÉJANÈS Jean-François, François Boucher: yesterday and today, cat. exp. (Paris, 2003-2004), Paris, Meeting of national museums, 2003. LIVET Georges, History of roads and transport in Europe: from the ways of Saint James to the golden age of stagecoaches, Strasbourg, University Press of Strasbourg, 2003.ROCHE Daniel, Wandering moods: on the circulation of men and the usefulness of travel, Paris, Fayard, 2003.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, " The gallant peddler »

Video: Rowandean One Day Special 20th August 2019