• France, Private Collection.
The grand classic theme of reclining or sleeping Venus constitutes one of François Boucher’s favorite subjects. In the guise of mythology, he could thus satisfy the century’s gallant taste for female nudes and languorous poses.
Realized three years before the artist’s passing, our work is one of the last pieces in a long series of drawings and paintings depicting the Goddess of Love: only Venus on the Water commissioned in 1769 by Jean-François Bergeret de Frouville for his Parisian mansion is later (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. 71.PA.54). It fits within an already established tradition of showing Venus in a languorous and surprisingly uncomfortable position, her arm bent over her head, which originated with the Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican discovered in 1512. Identified then as Cleopatra, the statue was rebaptised by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in his History of Ancient Art which appeared in 1764. However starting centuries before this new appellation and content to be able to use this reference from Antiquity, artists such as Titian, Dirk de Wuade van Ravesteyn, Annibale Carracci, Luca Giordano, Nicolas Poussin, Eustache Le Sueur, Jacques Blanchard, Sebastiano Ricci, and all the way up through Antoine Coypel, had long been painting Venus resting in a pose inspired by the Roman sculpture..
During his long brilliant career, Boucher was to give Venus the most varied poses, sometimes modest, sometimes lascivious, without ever citing this universally known antique model (ill. 1). Even on our sheet, it seems less a reminescence of the Vatican statue, but rather recalls its less famous inverted variation which now is in the Louvre (ill. 2). While remaining recognizable by erudite and informed art collectors who constituted the main clientele of the King’s First Painter, the goddess’ pose is thus more natural. Instead of remaining in the air, the bent arm is the one on which her head rests, while the other rests on a cushion. The body heavy with the young woman’s sleep is comfortably propped by sheets which create a delicate screen and whose agitated folds contrast with Venus’ satiny flesh. At her feet dozes a small cupid who thus confirms the mythological reading of the otherwise very sensual scene.
Our drawing was engraved in reverse by Gilles Demarteau, a fact which makes it possible to affirm that our is a preparatory work for this engraving (ill. 3). Furthermore, another drawing by Boucher is known that seems to have been shortly after ours and whose dimensions are roughly the same (black chalk and white chalk highlights on blue paper, 25 x 35.3 cm. / 9 13/16 x 13 7/8 cm. Besançon, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. E.2929). In the same direction as Demarteau’s engraving, he modified a few draperies and omitted cupid, but conserved the goddess’ pose precisely. This sheet served as a preparatory sketch for a lively more anecdotal painting: doves are pecking at each other while a small cupid sleeps and another bursts into the background brandishing a torch (ill. 4).
We would like to thank Mr. Alastair Laing for having confirmed the authenticity of our work.