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The Birth of Venus

Alexandre Cabanel (French, Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris)

Date:
1875
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
41 3/4 x 71 7/8 in. (106 x 182.6 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of John Wolfe, 1893
Accession Number:
94.24.1
  • Gallery Label

    The first version of Cabanel's Birth of Venus (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) created a sensation at the Salon of 1863, which was dubbed the "Salon of the Venuses" owing to the number of alluring nudes on view. Embodying the ideals of academic art, the careful modeling, silky brushwork, and mythological subject of Cabanel’s canvas proved a winning combination: the Salon picture was purchased by no less than Napoleon III for his personal collection. In 1875, John Wolfe commissioned the present, slightly smaller, replica from Cabanel.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower left): ALEX CABANEL

  • Provenance

    John Wolfe, New York (1875–d. 1894; commissioned from the artist; sale, Leavitt, New York, April 5–6, 1882, bought in)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. Seventh Regiment Armory. "Seventh Regiment New Armory Fair," November 1879, no. 98 (as "Birth of Venus," lent by John Wolfe).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 70.

    Toledo Museum of Art. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," November–December 1946, no. 38.

    Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," January–February 1947, no. 38.

    Claremont, Calif. Pomona College Gallery. "Muse or Ego: Salon and Independent Artists of the 1880's," April 16–May 12, 1963, no. 14.

    Jacksonville, Fla. Cummer Gallery of Art. "Artists of the Paris Salon," January 7–February 3, 1964, no. 8.

    South Hadley, Mass. Dwight Art Memorial. "The Legacy of David and Ingres to Nineteenth Century Art," October 12–November 13, 1966, no. 8.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.

    Hamburger Kunsthalle. "Courbet und Deutschland," October 19–December 17, 1978, no. 479 (as "Die Geburt der Venus").

    Frankfurt am Main. Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut. "Courbet und Deutschland," January 17–March 18, 1979, no. 479.

    Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 84.

    Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 29.

    Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19.Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.

  • References

    The Art Treasures of America. reprint, 1977. New York, 1879, vol. 1, pp. 64, 67, calls it a replica and places it in the Wolfe collection; discusses another replica in the collection of Henry C. Gibson, Philadelphia (now in the Dahesh Museum of Art, New York).

    Edward Strahan. "Art at the Seventh Regiment Fair." Art Amateur (December 1, 1879), p. 4, as "Venus".

    Cicerone. "American Art Galleries: Collection of Mr. John Wolfe." Art Amateur (June 1880), p. 6, calls it "Venus".

    Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 6 (April 1882), p. 93.

    Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings. New York, 1892, vol. 1, p. 225, list it in the collection of J. Wolfe, New York.

    Montague Marks. "My Note Book." The Art Amateur 30, no. 6 (May 1894), p. 154.

    William Sharp. "The Art Treasures of America (Concluded.)." Living Age, 7th ser., 1 (December 3, 1898), p. 606.

    Bryson Burroughs. Catalogue of Paintings. 1st ed. New York, 1914, pp. 35–36, no. C11–4, remarks that the MMA picture is smaller than the original in the Luxembourg Gallery, Paris (now Musée d'Orsay, Paris); notes that ours was commissioned by Wolfe; notes that a smaller replica is in the Gibson collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia (Dahesh Museum of Art).

    Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. "XIX Century." French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2, New York, 1966, pp. 166–67, ill., call it an exact, but smaller replica of the original picture (Orsay); note that there are several smaller versions of the original, which was shown in the Salon of 1863 and the Exposition universelle of 1867 and was acquired by Napoleon III; mention the Philadelphia replica (Dahesh Museum of Art) and a grisaille that was sold with the contents of Cabanel's studio in 1889, along with five preparatory drawings; comment that this is "an excellent example of the rediscovery of eighteenth-century art by the bourgeoisie of the Second Empire".

    Carl R. Baldwin The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Impressionist Epoch. [New York], 1974, pp. 10, 11, 23, ill.

    Lois Marie Fink. "French Art in the United States, 1850–1870: Three Dealers and Collectors." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 92 (September 1978), p. 97, calls this picture later than the Philadelphia replica (Dahesh Museum).

    John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. London, 1984, p. 231.

    Gary Tinterow in Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art. [Tokyo?], 1989, p. 138, no. 84, ill. (color).

    Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Catharine Lorillard Wolfe: The First Woman Benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 147 (March 1998), pp. 51, 54 n. 22.

    T. J. Clark. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. revised ed. (lst ed. 1984). Princeton, 1999, pp. xii, 122, fig. 145, mentions it in contrast to Manet's "Olympia" (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), and as an example of the "precarious and confused state" of the genre of the nude in the 1860s.

    Patricia Mainardi. "The 19th-century Art Trade: Copies, Variations, Replicas." Van Gogh Museum Journal (2000), p. 67, fig. 6, remarks that due to the popularity and demand for exact replicas of famous works, such as "The Birth of Venus" (Orsay), it is hard to discern which of the repetitions were made by Cabanel and which were done by his studio assistants or Goupil's copyists.

    Richard Thomson. "Trading the Visual: Theo van Gogh, the Dealer Among the Artists." Van Gogh Museum Journal (2000), p. 30, states that at least three replicas were made of the original.

    19th Century European Art and Fine 19th Century European Art. Christie's, New York. October 30, 2002, p. 68, under no. 36, fig. 5, states that the MMA picture, commissioned in 1875, must be the third version of the composition, since Gibson purchased his version (Dahesh Museum) in 1871; erroneously states that John Wolfe left his picture to Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, who then bequeathed it to the MMA.

    Kathryn Calley Galitz in Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 58, 62, 63, 217, no. 59, ill. (color and black and white).

    Kathryn Calley Galitz in The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 48–49, 51, 183, no. 29, ill. (color and black and white).

    Gary Tinterow in The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, fig. 4 (installation photo).

    Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, fig. 4 (installation photo).

    Jean Nougaret in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 468, no. 342.

    Roberta V. Rossi-Genillier in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 334.



  • Notes

    An earlier replica (formerly collection Henry C. Gibson and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia) is in the Dahesh Museum of Art, New York. Another, smaller, replica was sold at Sotheby's, New York, May 1, 2001, no. 53. An oil study was sold at Sotheby's, New York, May 24, 1995, no. 114.

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