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The Toilette of Venus
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alampel's picture

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If you had the chance to be one of Louis XV’s side chicks, then you were pretty much set for life.

Madame de Pompadour wasn’t any old side chick; she was the French king’s chief mistress from 1745 to 1751. I guess if you were rich enough, you were allowed to have a succession of “official mistresses,” and if you were hot enough, you were allowed to be one of those mistresses. Pretty wild stuff. As chief mistress, Madame de Pompadour had it made. Louis XV set her up with her own, private chateau near Paris and supplied her with enough cash money to decorate it as she pleased. So, Madame de Pompadour become one of the leading patrons of the French Rococo artist François Boucher and was pretty much responsible for making Rococo the hot style among the 18th century French 1%.

Madame de Pompadour was responsible for spreading this style of painting in France and elsewhere in Europe and also making her beloved Boucher a star. Boucher was all the rage during his time, and rich people loved his work. This was because Boucher perfectly captured everything about the society that the French elite had created for themselves - being fabulously wealthy, having little to no morals, and not giving a damn about it. Fun!

This painting pretty much hits the metaphorical nail on the Rococo head. At its core, the French Rococo style is basically just a bunch of elaborate and ridiculous scenes that feature either nobility or characters from mythological stories doing pointless things, like lounging in pleasure gardens or floating atop the clouds. Lucky for us, Boucher had the idea to mix these two types of characters in this painting. Although the painting shows the sultry and lustful goddess Venus, the work’s placement in the dressing room of the chateau that Louis XV built for his mistress invites comparison to Madame de Pompadour herself.

Slightly creepy angels give Venus a makeover and pick out strands of pearls while she stares wistfully off into the distance, obviously too busy to do any of these things for herself. The painting’s location in the dressing room of the chateau Bellevue is a sort of play on how Madame de Pompadour would spend her time in that room - most likely getting herself ready for the King’s booty calls. A year before she commissioned the painting from Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, who was also known for her acting and dancing, played the leading role in a play about the goddess Venus at Louis’s palace at Versailles. Real subtle.

Just like 18th century French women, male aristocrats and socialites loved to show off their beauty and wealth, too. Before The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired it, this painting was suitably located in New York in the boudoir of the wife of William K. Vanderbilt, heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Baetjer, Katharine. “Catalogue Entry” The Toilette of Venus. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435739
  2. Laing, Alistair. “Boucher: The Search for an Idiom.” In Francois Boucher, 1703-1770. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986.
  3. Stein, Perrin. “Francois Boucher (1703-1770).” The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2003. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bouc/hd_bouc.htm.
  4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The Toilette of Venus.” The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/20.155.9/