In Enlightenment France the dedicated search to define truth engendered a re–evaluation of the natural. The belief that it was right to follow nature, and that the pursuit of pleasure was natural, influenced the prevailing conception of the nude. François Boucher, who became the first painter to Louis XV, fully explored his century's interest in the relationship between the rational and the sensual.
In The Bath of Venus, the mythological goddess has lost any allusions to classical history painting and is offered up to the viewer as an object of physical beauty. Venus, located in a lush garden setting, coyly attempts to restrain a pouting Cupid as two putti point to the scene in mocking disapproval. Boucher's success in communicating the charm and sensuality of the nude lies in his mastery of color and fluid brushstrokes. Venus is rendered in porcelain tones, delicately accented in pink, her body highlighted against luscious blue velvet and silk. The two white doves at her feet contrast a thick impasto surface with the transparent water and cool greens and blues of the foliage. The painting exemplifies the rococo love of asymmetric lines and sinuous curves, artfully arranged to seduce both the eye and the mind of the beholder.
lower left in black paint: F Boucher / 1751
Painted for Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour [1721-1764] and installed in the appartement des bains in the Château de Bellevue, outside Paris; removed c. 1757; recorded 1764 in the vestibule of the ground floor of the Hôtel d'Evreux, Pompador's Parisian residence; by inheritance to her brother, Abel François Poisson, marquis de Ménars et de Marigny [1727-1781], Château de Ménars, Paris; installed in the gallery of Marigny's residence, rue St. Thomas du Louvre, Paris, by 1777; (his estate sale, at his residence by Basan and Joullain, Paris, 18 March-6 April 1782 [postponed from late February], no. 21); purchased by Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun [1748-1813], Paris and London. Baron Alfred Charles de Rothschild [1842-1918], Halton House, near Wendover, Buckinghamshire, by 1884; bequest to Grace Elvina Hinds Duggan Curzon, marchioness of Curzon [1879-1958], Kedleston Hall, Derby, Derbyshire; (her sale, American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, New York, 22 April 1932, no. 80); Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; gift 1943 to NGA.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
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Gallery, London, 2002-2003: 100-176-177.
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