Cabanel’s “The Birth of Venus”

"La naissance de Vénus"

Katja sent this over from Tampere, Finland: “Here’s some European beauty for you. If I had painted this painting (I wish!), I’d have left the angels out of it.  But still, amazingly beautiful, the sea and Venus’ hair.”  Agreed on all points.

Alexandre Cabanel’s La naissance de Vénus was the hit of 1863’s Salon de Paris (an annual workshop and competition which was sponsored by the French Government), but it was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Édouard Manet’s OlympiaOlympia had several points against her: she was clearly a prostitute; the painting was done in rougher strokes than were popular at the time; she was being attended by a black maid and a black cat, which suggested some sort of social commentary.  The painting was so unpopular that police had to be stationed in front of the canvas to protect it.

By contrast, La naissance de Vénus was an homage to the old masters, suggesting eroticism without the overt suggestion of sex.  After the unveiling, Cabanel made several duplicates of the painting by commission; one of them hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The original hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.

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