François Boucher (1703–1770) was a French Rococo artist who produced works in many genres such as porcelain and tapestries in addition to his many paintings and drawings. He began by printmaking and designing book illustrations and later started to create etchings and drawings based on works by Antoine Watteau. After a trip to Italy, he returned to Paris in 1731 and began to work on large scale mythological paintings. His works caught the eye of King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour, who became known as the “godmother of Rococo”. Through these connections, he was appointed the first painter to the king and the director of the Royal Academy.
Boucher’s Rococo paintings concentrate on the pastoral as well as the erotic. Luxuriously dressed ladies mingle with gentlemen in settings of trees and roses with a cherub sometimes present. Light pastels of greens and blues are used to create a soothing effect. In addition, he was a prolific draftsman. Boucher produced numerous sets of prints which adapted Chinese figures to Rococo taste, fueling the fashion for chinoiserie. An example is Chinese Girl Playing with a Cat.
Boucher includes cats in many of his paintings as a symbol of licentiousness and eroticism as well as cleanliness. In the 1742 painting La Toilette , we see the cat between the widely spread legs of a woman dressing.
In Young Woman Taking a Foot Bath, we see the cat next to the basin as a symbol of cleanliness and eroticism. In a Beautiful Kitchen Maid the cat is a witness to the seduction of the maid. Its strange expression depicts a certain comic boredom.
And in The Surprise, Woman with a Cat, we see a woman sitting in a chair with a young girl’s hand suggestively resting in her lower lap. The woman is holding a cat, its behind slightly uplifted, symbolic of licentiousness, while a man looks down upon her.