Boucher depicts foliage, branches and roots with swift brushstrokes. The overall sombre ambience is balanced with occasional bright accents. Boucher composed his landscapes in his studio from motifs found in nature whilst using stylised natural forms, and further drew inspiration from works by other artists. In his landscape paintings he references the Italian or Dutch pictorial tradition. Inspired by the rural area of Northern France he included those motifs in varying combinations in his pictures. Hence, the leafage of the painting cannot be assigned to any particular region.
The young man’s twinkling golden earring illustrates Boucher’s interest in depicting contemporary fashion trends. In contrast to the muscular representations of male figures in mythology, Boucher depicts the young man as a loving partner. Similarly style-conscious as his companion, he is dressed in expensive fabrics and accessories. Even contemporaries, such as the writer Jean-François de Bastide, remarked that men and women of the Parisian elite had assimilated in appearance, since also men had a special liking for blusher. Travesty and gender role-play were staged in theatre performances at the time.
The fair carnation of the beautiful shepherdess has a pearl-like sheen to it. Even though the pale skin, except for the face, neckline, arms and feet, remains concealed under the flowing dress, the slight pink blush on her cheeks reveals how precisely Boucher studied this sensitive organ. Particularly with his female nudes he paid close attention to the fine and gradual shading of the flesh. Renowned for his depictions of female beauty Boucher quickly earned himself a reputation as “painter of the graces”. The young woman follows the hand of her companion with a dreaming gaze. The entranced expression is emphasised by the slightly tilted head.
The name of the pastoral is derived from the Latin word “pastor” – shepherd in English. The long tradition of pastoral scenes in occidental art originates in the pastoral poetry, also bucolic poetry, by the Greek poet Theocritus and in later adaptations by Virgil. As the word pastoral implies, those paintings typically relate to scenes of simple life with sheep and goats. Accordingly, in Boucher’s depiction a sheep is resting close to the lovers. However, the couple is not distracted in their intimacy by neither its proximity nor by any unpleasant odours. The solitary sheep merely serves as an accessory, as a decorative element in the staging of a rural idyll.
Almost provokingly, the young shepherd outstretches his naked foot towards the viewers, the bare feet emphasise the shepherd and shepherdess’ closeness to nature. However, this is in rather stark contrast to their elaborate and precious clothing, which in itself indicates a different social status of the depicted. This may suggest a costume play which was common-place among the French elite of that time. Even contemporaries have criticised the artificiality of Boucher’s shepherd scenes. In his account of the Paris Salon of 1765, the art critic Denis Diderot, for example, exclaimed indignantly: “Will I never escape these terrible pastoral scenes?”
Margravine Karoline Luise von Baden aquired both of Boucher’s shepherd scenes in 1760. She had commissioned the paintings through the merchant Jean-Henri Eberts, who acted as an agent for her in Paris. The first pastoral was delivered to the margravine in May 1760, the second at the beginning of June of the same year. In a letter to Eberts she enthusiastically stated: “I was very pleased with the first [pastoral], but this one still surpasses it. It is alive, wonderful and of excellent colouring. Please do thank Monsieur Boucher on my behalf and tell him that he really enriches my cabinet with his beautiful works”.
Two red chalk drawings, after the two paintings from the collection of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, could have been created by the margravine herself. A skilled draftswoman herself, Karoline Luise copied many works she had acquired for her cabinet.
The correspondence with her agent Jean-Henri Eberts suggests that margravine Karoline Luise was particularly interested in the depiction of animals. Additionally, the paintings were also to include figures, flowers and streams – all motifs typical of a shepherd scene. The shepherdess keeps her dog like on a leash, a silk blue ribbon. The small spaniel, looking up at her with an expression of loyalty, is more likely to be a lap dog than a guardian. Praised as “masterpieces” by her agent, the margravine acquired both of Boucher’s paintings for 600 livres each. Despite this high price, the invoice indicates that one of the two counterparts arrived in Karlsruhe without varnish – the protective coating of the painting. A vial with the liquid was enclosed with the delivery.