The Toilet of Venus and Sleeping Venus
1738, oil on oval canvas, 96 x 143 cm
Why is this work so important?
The two oval pictures represent one of the painter’s favourite subjects: the depiction of Venus. The opposition between the two Venuses is highlighted: a seductive and enchanting Venus contrasts with a domestic Venus, each representing a different notion of Love.
Initially intended to be overdoors, the two decorative works provided the artist with an opportunity to paint the sensual forms of a young woman in all the fullness of her beauty. The nudes are rendered with great mastery, as are the effects of the jewellery and drapery. The goddess’s posture is perfectly suited to the oval format of the frame. Cupid watches over her recumbent figure in Sleeping Venus, and in The Toilet of Venus, she is looking down at a peacock while Cupid pulls at her ribbons.
In Sleeping Venus, Venus is holding a pearl necklace in her left hand. However, she was initially represented armed with two arrows, which can still be clearly distinguished beneath the paint. This modification is known as a ‘pentimento’, or a correction by the artist, who was dissatisfied with the initial layout.
Did you know?
On the left, in The Toilet of Venus, is a mirror with a gilt and chantourné (scroll form) frame. It evokes the ‘rocaille’ style—which was so popular in Louis XV’s day—promoted by Madame de Pompadour, whose protégé was Boucher.