François Boucher
The Toilette of Venus

Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

    • Oil on Canvas, 1751
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Boucher's success was greatly enhanced by the patronage of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, known to history as Madame (or Marquise) de Pompadour, the beautiful and talented mistress of Louis XV. Not only was she a powerful political figure (who arranged that her mother's lover and her brother be appointed to high government positions), but through her art patronage she greatly influenced contemporary taste and helped make Versailles the artistic capital of Europe. Boucher was her favorite painter, and when she decided to decorate her recently completed country house, Bellevue, a gift from the king, she awarded Boucher a number of commissions. Among these was a series of panels for her luxurious bathroom.

This picture formed one of those panels. It shows the goddess of love surrounded by putti (winged little boys, traditional symbols of love). While it is clearly only a decorative panel, the dazzling surface technique, sensuous textures, and profusion of objects that seem to spill over at the boundaries, typify Boucher's work. Since it is widely accepted that the model for this Venus was Madam de Pompadour herself, the luxury surrounding the nubile woman is obviously a tribute not only to his patron but her actual wealth. The picture becomes a reflection of her fortune and status, and also of the idea of luxury itself. The glittering array of satins and silks reminds us of the rich life of ancien-regime France and one of its most profitable industries, the thriving silk weavers of Lyons, the center of European production.

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