Venus and Nymphs,
(1690-1743) The Swing,
A scene… 1732
Les Jets d'Eau,
Le Serment d'Amour,
and stand with
figure of Cupid drumming,
Cup and saucer with scene
of Cupid shooting an arrow,
4 November 2006 - 9 April
The Triumph of Eros: Art and
Seduction in 18th Century France explores themes
of love and eroticism in 18th century French art from the rich
collections of The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
The period setting of the Hermitage Rooms is the ideal backdrop
for masterpieces of Rococo French painting by Boucher, Watteau,
Natoire, Lancret, sculpture by Falconet, and a sumptuous array
of French decorative arts.
The impetus for this exhibition,
and at its core, is a recently discovered collection of rare
French erotic engravings collected in the 19th century probably
in secret by Tsar Nicolas I. The fascinating collection
has never been seen outside St Petersburg, and so London
will be a privileged venue for its first international display.
The French 18th century is familiar to
us as the Age of Reason but it was also an age of passion, desire
and seduction. The many aspects of erotic desire were explored
by artists and devoured by connoisseurs, private collectors and
the French public alike. The exhibition begins by examining the
extraordinary resurgence of interest in the ancient Roman and Greek
god of erotic passion Cupid, or Eros, in 18th century French visual
culture. It shows how his image was depicted in different media,
from virtuoso paintings by Boucher on the theme of Cupid as an
allegory of the arts, to a playful inkstand by the Sèvres
porcelain factory, depicting Cupid mischievously drumming on the
A highlight of the exhibition will be
the loan of one of the Hermitage's most beloved treasures, the
marble sculpture Menacing
by Etienne-Maurice Falconet. This iconic work, produced
by the artist for Madame de Pompadour, and copied for a Russian
clientele (in this case Count Stroganoff), quickly became the
most famous modern visual representation of Cupid in the 18th
century. It will form a stunning centrepiece to the exhibition.
Further sections in the exhibition explore
Cupid's ever-present influence upon different representations of
love and seduction. These
range from groups of works which deal with the popular subject
of young women contemplating love and desire alone in their boudoirs,
to images of erotic encounter, transgression and consummation. They
include not only idealised visions of love's triumph, such as Boucher's
famous Pastoral Scene, but also representations of frustrated
and thwarted love, brilliantly depicted in Watteau's late masterpiece, Capricious
Girl. In many of the engravings images of love and
seduction are laced with moralising meanings about the dangers
of unbridled passion, giving a certain licence to images that pushed
the limits of decorum and taste.
However, the exhibition also probes
the ways in which the erotic in 18th century French art could
easily slip over into the pornographic, the decent into the indecent.
Works of art by Lancret, Nattier and Fragonard, have been chosen
to explore the nature of disorderly passion, voyeurism and sexual
licence, pushing at the boundaries of what was, and perhaps still
is, deemed aesthetically acceptable.
Among the erotic engravings
on display are examples of rare, privately collected, so-called
'1st state' prints showing figures before the inclusion of their
drapery which were added later for the official published print
The rapid expansion of popular print culture
in the 18th century saw increasingly explicit erotic scenes more
widely circulated, such as Fragonard's playful fantasy Les
Jets d'Eau. The exhibition also includes two small
private cabinet paintings by Subleyras showing scenes from tales
by La Fontaine, which were made for Duc d'Enghien in 1732. Due
to their risqué subject matter, they have never been publicly
displayed in the Hermitage, let alone outside of it, and will be
exhibited for the very first time in London.
The Triumph of Eros will throw
fresh light on how French 18th century artists expressed the complex
nature of erotic desire in its varied manifestations. By bringing
together artworks of different media and status, from works for
private consumption to major public statements, the exhibition
offers a wide visual spectrum of approaches to the erotic in French
art and culture. In doing so it seeks to demonstrate that Eros'
'triumph' is not simply the power of love to conquer all but rather
his ever-present and often disruptive influence on human affairs
in the age of rationalism and enlightenment.
The exhibition will be accompanied
by a fully illustrated colour catalogue published by Fontanka with
essays by scholars and curators from The State Hermitage Museum
and the Courtauld Institute of Art.
This exhibition has been
jointly organised by the Courtauld Institute of Art and The State
The Hermitage Rooms are supported by the Edmond
J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, The Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation
and the Founding Members of the Walpole Circle.
The exhibition has been curated
by Dr Dmitri Ozerkov, Curator of Prints, The State Hermitage Museum,
and Dr Satish Padiyar, Visiting Lecturer, Courtauld Institute of