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Pan and Syrinx
Boucher, François
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Boucher, François

Paris, 1703 - Paris, 1770

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Pan and Syrinx

1760 - 1765. Oil on canvas.
Room 020

The scene depicts a group of naked young women being surprised by a male who violently thrusts aside the reeds behind which they are concealed, while some cupids retreat in fear. The work illustrates a classical theme taken from Ovid´s Metamorphoses that appears to narrate the culminating moment in the mythical story of the god Pan and Syrinx, a wood nymph of Arcadia, which takes place by the river Ladon, though given the lack of precision in some significant elements of the Arcadian god of shepherds and flocks, the scene could be more generic and classified simply as nymphs and satyr. The nymph ended up being transformed into a reed in order to escape the clutches of the deity, who plucked this and other reeds and glued them together with wax to fashion a set of pipes of different lengths on which melodies were played. As a result the instrument came to be called syrinx after its origin. Boucher addressed this theme several times -National Gallery, London, in 1759, and also in 1761 in another painting that is now lost but known through Daulle´s engraving- but in rectangular format; the work shown here is the only known oval. The very free technique, vigorous brushstrokes, rich range of colours and rhythm of the composition indicate that it was executed when the master had reached full maturity, during the last decade of his life, more specifically during the period from 1760 to 1765. The treatment of the human figures is intended to be convincing, as the brutality of Pan´s pose is set in opposition to the delicate gestures of Syrinx and her companions, who are discovered in their glorious nakedness while engrossed in their play, oblivious to everything. The muscular, dark-skinned aggressor contrasts with the frightened girls with soft forms and fair skin tones who appear to be defenceless, incapable of putting up any resistance to the savage attacker blinded by his lecherous desire to win the nymph who has kindled his animal lust. Around that time Boucher was producing many works for the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, particularly for the series known as The Metamorphoses or The Elements. Interestingly, he made oval sketches for the large decorative garlands and other ornamental motifs. It is known that he produced another, different Pan and Syrinx in medallion format as the companion piece to Anion on the Dolphin; the two must have framed a Triumph of Venus which is known from a tapestry design in the Musee des Gobelins. Perhaps the Prado oval is an experiment for this commission, which would not be surprising considering the numerous times the painter devised new compositions by altering previous ones. Furthermore, all the themes he painted around that time for this tapestry series are also oval -Vertumnus and Pomona, Aurora and Cephalus, Venus emerging from the Waters, Cupid and Psyche, Jupiter and Calisto- and the spatial distribution is similar to that of Pan and Syrinx. Sale catalogues show that the painting has been owned by various collectors. It is possible to trace its passage through certain famous collections such as that of the painter´s own son-in-law: Baudouin sale, 15 February 1770, (no. 21). It is probably the painting mentioned in the Cypierre sale, to April 1845, (no. 13). It reappeared in the Sennegon sale on 9 May 1887, as no. 2, and in the E. Kraemer sale on 28 April 1913, as no. 2 (described as The River Scamandrus). Years later it passed to the Galerie Cailleux in Paris, where it was purchased by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in 1986 (Text drawn from Luna, J. J.: From Titian to Goya. Great Masters of the Museo del Prado, National Art Museum of China-Shanghai Museum, 2007, pp. 376-377).

Technical data

Inventory number
Boucher, François
Pan and Syrinx
1760 - 1765
Height: 95 cm; Width: 79 cm
Acquisition, 1985.

Bibliography +

Michel, A., François Boucher, París, 1906, pp. 209.

Fenaille, M., État général des tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelines dépuis son origine jusqu'à nos jours, XVIII. 2ème partie', París, 1907, pp. 227 y ss..

Museo del Prado, Últimas adquisiciones: 1982-1995, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1995, pp. 90-91, Nº 37.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, III, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996.

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado., Tokio - Osaka, 2006.

De Tiziano a Goya: grandes maestros del Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado: SEACEX, Madrid, 2007, pp. 266.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2075.
Boucher, François / 2075. Pan y Syrinx / L. 0,79 x 0,95 / Cat. 7066 / Adquirido en la galería Cailleux por el Ministerio. Abril 1986

Exhibitions +

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
13.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
29.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
14.07.2006 - 15.10.2006

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
24.03.2006 - 02.07.2006

Location +

Room 020 (On Display)

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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