Lot 125
  • 125

François Boucher

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • François Boucher
  • The sleep of Venus
  • signed and dated lower left: f. Boucher / 1754
  • oil on canvas, oval


Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), possibly in the King's bedroom in the Château de Bellevue, and in the postmortem inventory of her possessions with its pendant listed as in the vestibule on the ground floor of the Hôtel d'Evreux, also known as the Hôtel de Pompadour, the present-day Elysée Palace;
Her brother, Abel-François Poisson, Monsieur de Marigny and Marquis de Menars (1727-1781);
His deceased sale, Paris, 18 March 1782, lot 22 (with its pendant) for 300 livres, where according to an annotated catalogue it was acquired by M. Desmaisons for M. de Menou;
Presumably Jacques-François de Menou, Baron de Boussay (1750-1810), also known as Abdullah Jacques-François after his conversion to Islam; 
Marquis Guy de Blaisel, Paris;
His deceased sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 16-17 March 1870, lot 19, where unsold;
His deceased sale, London, Christie's, 17-18 May 1872, lot 90, where unsold;
His deceased sale sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 9-10 May 1873, lot 109;
Eugène Secrétan (1836-1899);
His sale, Paris, Galerie Sedelmeyer, 1 July 1889, lot 103;
Mona Travis Strader (1897-1983), later Mona Williams and subsequently Countess Mona Von Bismarck, New York and Paris;
By order of whose Estate sold, Monaco, Sotheby's, 29 November 1986, lot 353;
With Sayn-Wittgenstein Fine Art, New York;
Private collection;
Anonymous sale, Monaco, Sotheby's, 5 December 1991, lot 182;
Purchased just after the sale by the present collectors.


Tokyo, Odakyu Grand Gallery; Umeda-Osaka Daimaru Museum; Hokkaido, Hokkaido-Hakodate museum of Art; Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art, Three masters of French Rococo: Boucher, Fragonard, Lancret, 1990, no. 20;
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, Eye for the Sensual, 25 September 2010 - 2 January 2011, no. 8.


A. Michel, Francois Boucher, Paris 1906, p. 18, cat. no. 272;
Vogue Magazine, 1 October 1933, p. 53, photographed in Mona Williams' dining room at 1130 Fifth Avenue, New York;
J. Cordey, Inventaire des biens de Madame de Pompadour rédigé après son décès (1764), Paris 1939, p. 90, cat. no. 1233-81;
A. Ananoff, Francois Boucher, Paris 1976, vol. II, p. 321;
C.B. Bailey, The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David, exhibition catalogue, New York 1992, p. 412, and p. 414, notes 20 and 23, reproduced p. 415, fig. 4;
X. Salmon, Madame de Pompadour et les Arts, Paris 2002, p. 138, cat. no. 4, reproduced figs. 4 and 141;
J. Baillio, The Arts of France, New York 2006, p. 210, under cat. no. 78, reproduced fig. 78a;
J. Baillio, 'Venus as Protectress of the Arts of Music and Drawing', in The Kimbell Art Museum Calender, March-August 2010, p. 20, reproduced,
J-P. Marandel in Three masters of French Rococo: Boucher, Fragonard, Lancret, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo 1990, p. 144, cat. no. 20, reproduced in color pp. 56-57;
A.R. Gordon, Documents for the History of Collecting, French Inventories I, The Houses and Collections of the Marquis de Marigny, Los Angeles 2003, p. 299, item 790 and note 143, and p. 641, no. 15 (where it is cited as having been cleaned and conserved in 1777 by Hooghstael for Marigny);
J-P. Marandel in Eye for the Sensual, exhibition catalogue, Stuttgart 2010, pp. 20 and 62-63, cat. no. 8, reproduced in color.

Catalogue Note

This sensuous and intimate depiction of Venus at rest was painted by Boucher in 1754 for the Marquise de Pompadour (fig. 1), the maîtresse en titre, or official mistress, of King Louis XV. The importance of the commission cannot be overstated for not only was Pompadour the artist's most significant patron while he was at the height of his fame and skill, but as an arbiter of taste she was instrumental in the course of the development of eighteenth-century French painting. As one might expect from such a key commission, several preparatory drawings are known, the most developed of which is the study for the figure of Venus sold Monaco, Sotheby's, 5 December 1991, lot 50 (fig. 2).1

The subject was much favored by the artist and he revisited it several times during his illustrious career, but the present work is the only example in a vertical format. Boucher clearly delighted in the depiction of the female nude and this beautiful painting perfectly illustrates his remarkable skill: the rosiness of Venus' delicate skin is accentuated by the sumptuous red folds which surround her, while the undulations of her thick hair are echoed by the crisp white linen in her lap. The serenity of the scene is encapsulated by the gentle way in which she rests her head on her right hand as the soft contours of her form are balanced by her long, elegant limbs. The discrete glimpse of the edge of her nipple perhaps summarises the mood of this inviting yet respectful representation of the goddess of Love.

The painting is known from the early literature to have been one of a pair which has since been identified as the Venus as Protectress of the Arts of Music and Drawings. The works are both dated from the same year, are of very similar size and are both listed in the Marquise's postmortem inventory and in the estate sale of her brother, the Marquis de Marigny. The latter was a figure of importance in his own right and was head of Louis XV's fine art administration, the Direction des Bâtiments du Roi, and the husband of the king's illegitimate daughter, Julie Marie Françoise Filleul (1751-1822), whom he was to marry in 1767. Baillio (see Literature, 2006) posits that given the chronology and subject matter of the two works, they may well have been painted for the impressive Château de Bellevue, built between 1748 and 1751, where other works by Boucher hung, including the Toilet of Venus from 1751 now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Though the present painting and its pendant are not listed in Dézallier d'Argenville's rich description of the rooms at Bellevue, Bailey (see Literature) suggests that they may have been intended for the King's bedroom, whose contents are not included in Dézallier's account.2 Perhaps it was after Pompadour sold the château to the Crown in 1757 that these and other works were sent to the Hôtel d'Evreux.

Xavier Salmon (see Literature) notes that the present painting does not seem to fit into a specific iconographic programme and unlike other Pompadour commissions does not point to a precise moment in the relationship between her and the king, unless the figure of the sleeping Venus symbolises the King's now dormant love for Pompadour, since by this stage she was no longer the object of his the carnal desires. Perhaps the pendant of the work (fig. 3) points not only to her passion as a draftsman, but also to her increasingly important role in the arts.

Pompadour's patronage of Boucher ensured that his production during these years focused on subjects and color palettes which would now be defined as quintessentially Rococo. For example, the series of eight canvases depicting The Arts and Sciences today at the Frick in New York was painted by Boucher between 1750 and 1753 to decorate one of Pompadour's houses. However, he did not limit himself to intimate and domestic scenes for during this period he produced a pair of mythologies which should be counted amonst his masterpieces: the Rising of the Sun and the Setting of the Sun, today in the Wallace Collection in London, were both painted in 1753.

The painting's illustrious provenance is not limited to its early history. By the end of the eighteenth century it belonged to the Baron de Boussay, a nobleman who was to become a statesman of the French Revolution and subsequenly command one of the five divisions of Napoleon's armée d'Orient in Egypt. He was for a brief time the owner of the Rosetta Stone before having to surrender it to British troops after the capitulation of Alexandria and French withdrawal from Egypt. He was later appointed governor of Venice. The French industrialist Eugène Secrétan, who donated 60,000 kilos of copper to help build the Statue of Liberty owned the painting until he was forced to sell all his collection after the copper crash of March 1889.  By the mid twentieth century the painting passed into the collection of Mona von Bismarck, the New York socialite and fashion icon whose will established the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art and Culture in Paris.

1. Other related works include a black and white chalk drawing in the British Museum (inv. no. 1978-6-24-13) and a syudy of Vebus' face, shoulders arms and in the Boymans van Beuningen Museum.
2.See Dézallier d'Argenville, Voyage pittoresque des environs de Paris, ou description des maison royales, chateaux, et autres lieux de plaisance.