July 26, 2021

libertine fantasies and sensual pleasures at the Cognacq-Jay Museum

In around sixty paintings, drawings and prints, the Cognacq-Jay Museum, in the 3e arrondissement of Paris, draws up a selected inventory of the 18th century lover’s imaginatione century, starting with that of François Boucher (1703-1770). The title of this exhibition “The Empire of the Senses, from François Boucher to Jean-Baptiste Greuze” – which lasts until July 18 -, a nod to the Japanese film of 1976, evokes the liberation of manners that is beginning in the Age of Enlightenment and the artistic works that respond to it: “Painters, philosophers, playwrights and writers, all invest in the theme of amorous passions and carnal desire. Painting and literature dialogue, as in the case of Sopha (1742), this libertine novel by Crébillon fils, which seems to echo the famous Odalisque brune (1745), painted by his friend François Boucher. “ Here is a preview in pictures commented by Annick Lemoine, director of the Cognacq-Jay Museum.

Read also: From Watteau to Boucher, immersed in the painting of desire in the 18th century
François Boucher: “Danaé receiving the golden rain” (circa 1740), oil on canvas - Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (Sweden).

“Artists summon the loves of ancient gods to stage the omnipotence of desire. This is the case with the myth of Danaé: Acrisios, learning from an oracle that he will be killed by his grandson, sequesters his daughter Danaé in a bronze tower. Jupiter, transformed into a shower of gold, manages to penetrate this prison and impregnates the princess in spite of herself. This mythological episode is the subject of three different interpretations by three emblematic artists of the exhibition: Boucher, Fragonard and Greuze, who each highlight, each in their own way, the strong sexual charge of this myth and its violence. The daring character of Boucher’s sketch might explain why the painter did not pursue the project of translating it into a successful composition. “

François Boucher: “Leda and the Swan” (1742), oil on canvas - Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (Sweden).

“Here, Jupiter is transformed into a swan to seduce the beautiful Leda. Boucher takes the liberty of adding a companion, oh so carnal, to exacerbate the eroticism of the scene. The discreet allusion to Sapphic loves takes part in it. The swan, whose neck has an obvious sexual connotation, is treated with thick flat areas, which increase the dramatic effect produced by its coming attack. “

François Boucher: “Sylvie delivered by Aminte” (1755), oil on canvas - Banque de France, Paris (France).

“This painting belongs to a series of four compositions inspired byAminta (1573), a masterpiece by the Italian poet Le Tasse. The scene evokes the deliverance of Sylvie, prisoner of a satyr, by Aminte. The astonishing gesture of the young woman, made of grace and tension at the same time, reflects her ambiguous reaction: relieved to be delivered, she is however preparing to refuse the advances of Aminte, whom she does not want. This masterpiece from the Banque de France collection has been restored for the exhibition. It is usually only visible once a year, on the occasion of Heritage Days. “

François Boucher: “The Brown Odalisque” (1745), oil on canvas - Louvre Museum, Department of Paintings, Paris (France).

“Rarely will a painter have dared such a license. Fixing her gaze at the viewer, a young woman languishing on a sofa, “legs below, legs beyond” (to quote Diderot’s tasty words), rolled up her shirt to reveal a voluptuous buttocks, placed in the center of the composition. These compositions, kept secret, adorned new private spaces devoted to pleasures, such as the boudoir of the private mansion or the “little house”, located on the outskirts of the city, as well as brothels.

In this secret, daring, eminently erotic work, all the senses are summoned: the sight obviously, sharpened by the shameless exhibition of a voluptuous buttocks, but also the smell, suggested by the presence of the perfume burner, or even the hearing, evoked by the rustling of fabrics, and finally the touch, translated by this extraordinary pile of drapes, with a virtuoso rendering. The disorder of these drapes suggests the frenzy of the senses. The insolente Odalisque is an explicit invitation to the pleasure of the senses and a hymn to the delight of the gaze. “

François Boucher: “Foot study for L'Odalisque blonde” (circa 1751), pastel - Musée Carnavalet, Paris (France).

“If the Brown Odalisque can appear like a portrait of the buttocks, Boucher delivers here an extraordinary portrait of the foot: he creates, from an anatomical detail, a most suggestive composition. The velvety complexion, the unexpected framing, the disorder of the drapes or the presence of the pillow: everything contributes to exalt the eroticism of the part on the whole. This little pastel refers to the fetishism of shoes and feet, then nicknamed in informed circles “retifism”, in reference to the writer Restif de la Bretonne, author in 1769 of the licentious work, Fanchette’s Foot. »

Jean-Baptiste Greuze: “La Volupté” (1765), oil on wood - Private collection, Paris (France).

“A section of the exhibition is devoted to female pleasure. In the XVIIIe century, doctors began to distinguish female pleasure and to study the physical manifestations of female pleasure – here, translated into painting: head thrown back, eyes half-closed, lips parted. This Voluptuousness is reminiscent of representations of mystical ecstasy, like Bernini’s Saint Teresa, exhibited in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome. The work is even more disturbing when one understands that the painter, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, took as a model his own wife, Anne Gabrielle Babuty. One can imagine the striking effect produced by this work on the painter’s familiar contemporaries. “

François Boucher: “Hercules and Omphale” (circa 1732-1735), oil on canvas - Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow (Russia).

“This masterpiece of Boucher’s youth, which comes from the prestigious collections of
Pushkin Museum, has not been exhibited in France for thirty years. From Moscow, he crossed Russia, Finland and Germany, by truck, to reach our walls. This painting stands out with its unprecedented ardor. It is a “unicum”. The artist embodies with an incandescent kiss, full on the mouth, the irresistible passion that transports the hero Hercules and the queen of Lydia, Omphale. The intensity of the kiss and the rawness of the gestures respond to the flamboyant palette and the disorder of the drapes. The details are also explicit: the entwining of the legs symbolizes the carnal act since the Renaissance, while sexual attributes are hidden in the opulent drapes. “