Provocative? Undoubtedly. Suggestive? Endlessly. But when François Boucher painted the Reclining Girl way back in 1752, it was destined to resonate far beyond any passing erotic impact. The nude in art has long been a source of humour and misunderstanding in equal measure. And rarely has an example been more representative of this than when Boucher sat with Marie-Louise O’Murphy to create his masterpiece. Just 15 when she posed for Boucher, Miss O’Murphy was presented in a style far removed from the unattainable beauty of the classical tradition. Coquettish, unconstrained and openly licentious, she would go on to become mistress to Louis XV, who greatly admired Boucher’s portrayal of the young beauty.
Today, another illustrious admirer regularly takes the time to appreciate the image. “Boucher's Reclining Girl is a painting my family and I go to visit often in the old Pinakothek in Munich,” says Jeff Koons. “It always strikes me as one of the most sensual images ever painted.”
So when Koons embarked on his Masters Collection collaboration with Louis Vuitton, this marriage of France’s leading House with one of the nation’s timeless artistic jewels was too delicious to ignore. There is a peerless level of craftsmanship in the Neverfull incarnation of Koons’ tribute to Boucher. The legendary, capacious and endlessly flexible Louis Vuitton tote is just as at home in city and country settings, bringing an artistic flourish to all walks of life. This distinctively sensual offering (it is also presented on the House’s historic Speedy bag) is representative of an unique, limited edition range of Masters.
The unrivalled craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton’s products provides the perfect canvas for Koons’ interpretation of some of the greatest paintings ever committed to canvas. As the great man himself says: “It's not about copying.” No. This is a great contemporary artist sharing his greatest inspirations with the wider world. Be honest. Had you come across Boucher’s Reclining Girl before you saw it in Louis Vuitton form? For most the answer would be a resounding negative.
As the art critic Jonathan Jones says of the Masters Collection: “This is not simply a line of luxury bags. It is an artist’s meditation on the Masters, in handbag form. Picasso copied and reworked great paintings in his later years. Koons is offering a different kind of art lesson, and it is a joy.” This message is equally applicable across the Masters range. This second incarnation of the collaboration between Koons and Louis Vuitton, which was first launched in April, sees Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Poussin and Turner added to the heady mix.
In the case of Boucher, it brings the boudoir out onto the streets, into restaurants and our very homes. In doing so it exposes a neglected masterpiece to the gaze of the wider world. Yet being a great artist is never quite enough. Finding the best opportunity to collaborate is every artist’s dream, and in the case of Koons and Louis Vuitton it shows no sign of slowing down.
To reach the fullness of potential every creator needs a sponsor, and Boucher, too, was no exception. Without the unrelenting appreciation of Louis XV’s favourite mistress, Madame de Pompadour, Boucher would never have become the formidable force he was. It was Madame de Pompadour herself who introduced him to Marie-Louise O’Murphy.
Elevated to the highest esteem at Versailles, Boucher became the first painter to the King five years before his death, aged 67, at the Louvre. It was how he would have wanted to go, one imagines. And how flattered he would be by the tribute of another great artist 250 years later.