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
Marks and Labels
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.
- François Boucher in North American Collections: One Hundred Drawings, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago, 1973-1974, unnumbered brochure for Washington venue (shown only in Washington).
- Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. 2 vols. Paris, 1880: I:192.
- "Madame de Pompadour et les Arts." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 3rd ser., vol. 62 (August 1903): 402
- Nolhac, Pierre de. "Quelques tableaux de Boucher de la Collection de M. le Baron Alfred de Rothschild (Londres)." Les Arts. 20 (August 1903): 2-4, repro. cover
- Michel, André. François Boucher. Paris, 1906: no. 305.
- Nolhac, Pierre de. François Boucher: premier peintre du roi. Paris, 1907: 47, 124, repro. opposite 124
- Nolhac, Pierre de. Boucher, premier peintre du roi. Paris, 1925: 95
- "$31,000 for Painting: Sales from Lady Curzon's Collection Total $93,672." The New York Sun. 23 April 1932:18
- Art News. 30, no. 32 (7 May 1932): repro. on cover
- Beaux-Arts 10 (May 1932): repro. p. 9
- "Boucher Painting Sold for $31,000." The New York Times. 23 April 1932: 34
- "Chester Dale Secures Important Boucher from Curzon Collection in American-Anderson Galleries' Sale." Art News, 30, no. 31 (30 April 1932): 5+
- Cortissoz, Royal. "François Boucher, Apropos of a Painting now in New York." The New York Herald Tribune (1 May 1932): section VII, 10, repro.
- Cordey, Jean. Inventaire des biens de Madame de Pompadour rédigé après don décès. Paris, 1939: no. 1230
- Horticq, Louis. La Peinture française XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1939: repro. frontispiece
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 16, repro.
- Washington Times-Herald 18 July 1943:C-10
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 114, color repro.
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1944: 16, repro.
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1953: 19, repro.
- Einstein, Lewis. "Looking at French Eighteenth Century Pictures in Washington." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th ser., 67, no. 1048-1049 (May-June 1956): 227, repro. 223.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 46, repro.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. French Paintings of the 16th-18th Centuries in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Four in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 34, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 210, repro.
- Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Paintings & Sculpture of the French School in the Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 19, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 17.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:314, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 10, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 38, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 334-5, no. 447, repro.
- Ananoff, Alexandre. "François Boucher et l'Amérique." L'Oeil 251 (June 1976): 22.
- Ananoff, Alexandre, with Daniel Wildenstein. François Boucher. 2 vols. Lausanne and Paris, 1976: 2:80-82, no. 377, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 332, no. 443, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 57, repro.
- Norton, Thomas E. 100 Years of Collecting in America: the Story of Sotheby Parke Bernet. New York, 1984: 116
- François Boucher, 1703-1770. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; Grand Palais, Paris. New York, c. 1986: 256
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 170, repro.
- Fiero, Gloria K. Faith, Reason and Power in the Early Modern World. The Humanistic Tradition 4. 3rd ed. New York, 1998: no. 26.7, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 250, no. 201, color repro.
- Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 3, 19-25, color repro.