The Birth of Venus (Cabanel)
|Type||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||130 cm × 225 cm (51 in × 89 in)|
|Location||Musée d'Orsay, Paris|
The Birth of Venus (French: Naissance de Venus) is a painting by the French artist Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889). It was painted in 1863, and is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A second and smaller version (85 x 135.9 cm) from ca. 1864 is in Dahesh Museum of Art. A third (106 x 182.6 cm) version dates from 1875; it is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Shown to great success at the Paris Salon of 1863, The Birth of Venus was immediately purchased by Napoleon III for his own personal collection. That same year Cabanel was made a professor of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
Cabanel's erotic imagery, cloaked in historicism, appealed to the propriety of the higher levels of society. Art historian and curator Robert Rosenblum wrote of Cabanel's The Birth of Venus that "This Venus hovers somewhere between an ancient deity and a modern dream"; he described "the ambiguity of her eyes, that seem to be closed but that a close look reveals that she is awake ... A nude who could be asleep or awake is specially formidable for a male viewer".
Cabanel was a determined opponent of the Impressionists, especially Édouard Manet, although the refusal of the academic establishment to realize the importance of new ideas and sources of inspiration would eventually prove to be the undoing of the Academy.
The eighteenth-century saw many great artists, specifically, painters as it was a revolutionary time period. When art historians look back upon the French painters of this era, they hold a select few in highest regard for their talent and contributions to the art world. One of these chosen artists is Alexandre Cabanel. Cabanel is widely known for his success as an impressionist painter, though he had diverse background in portrait painting and was an established draftsman as well. He was called upon by Europe and America’s elite throughout his lifetime to paint for aristocrats as well as royalty. Cabanel also developed a reputation as an incredible teacher. He had countless students, and his legacy can be seen through their accounts of him and through their works as well. One of his most famous works to date is The Birth of Venus. The original Birth of Venus is located today in the Musee’ d’Orsay in Paris, France. There is also a secondary and tertiary work, painted in succession that sits in the Dahesh Museum of Art in New York, New York and a third in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Cabanel made several copies of this painting himself, and it has become one of the most copied works in history. Cabanel first exhibited Venus at the Salon of 1863, in Paris, France. It was met immediately with much acclaim, and even purchased by Emperor Napoleon III for his personal collection. At the Salon that year, Birth of Venus was one of a multitude of female nudes. However, Cabanel was successful in setting his Venus specifically apart from the rest. He did this through his adherence to the canon of the time period. Harsh criticism reached Cabanel’s peers for their treatment of the female form. Critics dubbed them as vulgar an inappropriate. Some were even thought to be pornographic in their provocativeness. Cabanel, however stayed true to the idealized nude. Under the guise of mythology, he was able to present Venus in a way that was intriguing to his audience and not overtly sensual. Cabanel depicts Venus nude, in an idealized way. She is definitely sensual, though not lewd. She is reclining over the sea, seeming to be waking from a dream. Likewise, the entire portrait is bathed in opalescent colors. Venus shyly looks to the viewer from beneath the crook of her elbow. Though she wears nothing, she seems one with her environment. Her posture and indirect gaze only add to the viewer feeling as though they have intruded upon her slumber, that her nakedness is natural. The Birth of Venus was so significant in its success at the Salon of 1863 because of its differentiation in reception from the other works shown there. Cabanel’s Venus was met with praise, unlike his fellow artists’ works. This meant something for the time period because many of the artists exhibited nudes. Specifically, Edouard Manet presented his now renowned piece “Olympia” at the Salon as well. Today both hang in the Musee’d’ Orsay. Where Cabanel and Manet differ, is in their treatment of the female nude. Manet boldly painted a portrait of a well- known prostitute at the time. Though she reclines like Venus, she looks directly out at the viewer commanding one to gaze upon her nakedness. Unlike Venus’s ethereal-like palette, Manet painted Olympia with pale, placid skin tone, and darkly outlined the figure. Her only seemingly modest gesture is her placement of her hand over her leg, though it is not out of shyness- one must pay before they can see. James Rubin writes of the two works: “The Olympia is often compared to Cabanel’s Birth of Venus, for the latter is a far more sexually appealing work, despite its mythological guise… It is evident Manet’s demythologizing of the female nude was foremost a timely reminder of modern realities. The majority of critics attacked the painting with unmitigated disgust…: “What is this odalisque with the yellow belly, ignoble model dredged up from who knows where?” [And] “The painter’s attitude is of inconceivable vulgarity.” Rubin, Impressionism, 67-68.
When one views Venus today, her beauty is undeniable. She is outstretched, reclining on the waves, seeming to be arousing from sleep. Cherubs fawn over her and she is clothed in youth-like innocence. Erotic in her pose, Venus’s form is seductive in nature, and is enhanced by her opulent surroundings. She is curious and desirable at the same time. Cabanel depicts personality, but in subtle ways -unlike that of Manet- through her relaxed posture and sleepy expression. Jenna-Marie Newberry writes of Venus: “The lightest of color used in The Birth of Venus alludes to the lightness and enlightenment of relaxation, amplifying the reclining nude’s placid demeanor and virginity. The contraposto twist of the figure with the melodramatic swoop of the arm over the face comes directly from his previous paintings… “Venus herself takes over the entire front of the picture plane. Her hair has been deepened, adding more to her allure and purity. ” It is as if the viewer is catching a glimpse of a goddess simply basking in the nature that enfolds her. She is calm, and asks nothing with her gaze. She is a part of her surroundings and the viewer is privy to behold upon the scene. By adhering to the accepted canon of the day, Cabanel produced a quite seductive painting of a mythological beauty alongside other nudes that were unable to be perceived as such. His Venus is no less attractive, nor captivating than its counterparts, Cabanel’s is simply presented in a calculated way that is acceptable for viewers at the time of its creation. His style was much developed. Following the Salon it was said: “His dark-eyed heroines, thinly painted, usually in muted colors and immaculately drawn, were popular on both sides of the Atlantic” (Whitely).
Over time, Alexandre developed what would become his signature style. It was his attention to detail that made him incredibly popular in the nineteenth century. Cabanel was schooled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under renowned painter Francois Edouard Picot. Following his tutelage, he entered his first Salon in 1843 and won second place in the Prix de Rome in 1845. Ibid. All the while he was developing his personal style. “Several major decorative commissions followed including the ceiling in the Cabinet des Dessins in the Louvre, and are typical of Cabanel’s talent for achieving sumptuous effects.” Initially famous for his mythological paintings, Cabanel also made a name for himself in Europe and abroad through his portraits. The way he treated the female form in his works was truly unique, and he was much sought after by aristocratic society. “Praised as a portraitist of women, Cabanel expressed that he was particularly adept at painting portraits of American women.” Zalewski, “Alexander,” 3. A portrait by Cabanel was a desirable commodity. He was a favored portraitist of the Emperor Napoleon himself, and he also refused to travel outside of France to accept a commission. This required American elite to travel to Paris to sit for him. Why go to all of this effort for a signature Cabanel portrait? “Cabanel had the ability to lend his sitters an air of gentility and urbanity, and to give them an aristocratic allure… The terms “elegance,” “grace,” and “refinement,” appear frequently in comments on Cabanel’s portraits. When looking upon the Birth of Venus one can’t help but think of these terms. C.H Stranahan summarized the appeal of Cabanel’s style shortly before his death saying: “…He is especially the master of every grace attractive to woman; great judiciousness in rendering what his subtle reading of the human face gives him; great power and knowledge of hands, which leads to his throwing a veil of mystery over the expression, even leaving a softening vagueness…
Alexandre Cabanel was a master of his style. Classified as an impressionist painter, he did much more than that in his lifetime. Upon his passing, “Journals and dailies paid indulgent tribute to Cabanel in obituaries.” In one, he was called “the most distinguished painter of the grand style,” and “all commented on Cabanel’s liberal teaching” Zalewski, 157-58. A painter of royalty and a teacher of many, Cabanel found acclaim during his lifetime, and continues to do so today.
Cabanel. 1856-1880? Photograph. ID# SIL7-343-044a. Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
"CABANEL, Alexandre." Benezit Dictionary of Artists (. "The Fine Arts." The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts (1886-1898) no. 266 (Feb 2, 1889, 1889): 56. Alexandre Cabanel. "Birth of Venus,". http://library.artstor.org/library/secure/ViewImages?id=%2FThWdC8hIywtPygxFTx5TnQkVn0reA%3D%3D. Alexandre Cabanel, French, 1823-1889. "The Birth of Venus,". http://library.artstor.org/library/secure/ViewImages?id=%2FDFMaiMuOztdLS04ejp4QXsvXQ%3D%3D. Cabanal, Alexandre,French, 1824-1889. "The Birth of Venus,". http://library.artstor.org/library/secure/ViewImages?id=8DlKaFsnKjQ6. Hart, Charles Henry. "The Public and Private Collections of the United States. II. the Collection of Mr. Henry C. Gibson, Philadelphia. First Article." The American Art Review 1, no. 6 (Apr., 1880): 231-235. Newberry, Jenna Marie. "Venus Anadyomene: The Mythological Symbolism from Antiquity to the 19th Century." 2011. Rubin, James H. Impressionism. London:Phaidon Press Limited, 1999. Whiteley, Jon. "Cabanel, Alexandre." Grove Art Online (. Zalewski, Leanne. Alexandre Canabel's Portraits of the American ‘Aristocracy’ of the Early Gilded Age. Vol. 4 2005. Zalewski, Leanne M. "The Golden Age of French Academic Painting in America, 1867--1893." Ph.D., City University of New York, 2009
- Alexandre Cabanel, Adolphe Jourdan, The Birth of Venus>
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Birth of Venus
- Rosenblum 1989, p. 38.
- Stephen Kern, Eyes of Love: The Gaze in English and French Paintings and Novels 1840-1900 p.101, 1996, Reaktion Books, Art & Art Instruction, ISBN 0-948462-83-3
- Rosenblum, Robert (1989). Paintings in the Musée d'Orsay. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. ISBN 1-55670-099-7
|This painting-related article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.|