Boucher's An Autumn Pastoral
Diderot on An Autumn Pastoral (From the Salon of 1765):
"What a misuse of talent! How much time gone to waste! You could have had twice the effect for half the effort. With so many details all equally carefully painted, the eye doesn't know where to look. No air. No rest. And yet the shepherdess does have the right face for her station. And this bit of countryside surrounding the vase does have the delicacy, a freshness, a surprising charm. But what does this vase and its pedestal mean? What's the meaning of those heavy branches on top of it? When one writes, does one have to write everything? For pity's sake, leave something to the imagination. But if you say that to a man who has been corrupted by praise and who is convinced of his own talent, he'll just nod his head in disdain; you'll say your piece and we'll move on. Jussum se suaque solum amare [Condemned to love nothing but himself and his own works]. It's a shame nonetheless."
Montesquieu on An Autumn Pastoral:
Boucher's Pastoral, I must say is not very pleasing to the eye although it could come close to be.
The figures, it is true, are grouped and central in the composition but they are not enough separated from the background. Boucher used light and colour to make them more prominent and distinguishable to the eye but the level of detail and the multitude of objects around them spoils the effect. The eye is directed to the two figures but is quickly distracted and wander at lost among the trees and clouds and plants of the background.
Every leaves in the trees, every crack in the stone pedestal, every rocks on the ground is rendered with the same level of detail, the same tones and shades, which ultimately, instead of creating variety, creates chaos and uniformity. There are some elements of surprise such as the little girl hidden among the sheep, quietly observing the two lovers, but they seem lost among the multitude of detail.
I concede that the pedestal, with its slightly classic architecture brings a welcomed element of symmetry and relieves the eye from the general confusion of the painting. Yet, the vegetation that seems to have takenover it obscures the simple and pure forms that may have given the viewer some space to breath and rest his fatigued eyes.
The piece as a whole lacks contrast (except perhaps for the sunlight that bathes the two figures) for the same reason that it lacks variety and order: everything is painted the same way and with the same careful attention to detail, ultimately overwhelming the viewer who doesn't know where to look.