The young woman may be Aegina, daughter of the river god Asopus, who was visited by Jupiter in the guise of fire and was later carried off by him in the form of an eagle.
This unfinished picture was perhaps an attempt by Greuze at a reception piece for the French Royal Academy. In 1767 he was barred by the Academy from exhibiting in the Salon for having failed to fulfill this requirement. The same year, in a letter to Diderot, Greuze wrote that he "should very much like to paint a woman totally nude without offending modesty." It is possible that he was inspired by Rembrandt's Danae (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), then in Paris.
The subject of the painting has for a long time been at issue. If the present identification is correct, then Greuze depicted Aegina, daughter of the river god Asopus, when she was visited by Jupiter in the guise of fire. According to Ovid, Aegina conceived a son, Aeacus, first king of the island that lies in the gulf to the south of Athens, and Jupiter took the form of an eagle to carry her there. Alternatively, if the emanation in the picture should be read as a shower of gold, then Greuze chose as his subject the much more famous story of the conception of Perseus, son of Jupiter and Danaë. A third possibility is that she is Semele, in which case the old woman would be the jealous Juno disguised as the servant Beroë, who urged Semele to invite the god to come to her in the fatally potent form of a thunderbolt. Reading the picture is complicated by the fact that it is incomplete: fire, coins, lightning, or a thunderbolt may be imagined but not seen. Whatever the story, the heroine is impregnated by Zeus. The narrative content is indicated by her gesture and expression, by the eagle from whose claws the drapery is suspended and her nude body revealed, and by the golden cloud at the center. The canvas is first recorded, with the title Jupiter et Danaé, at auction in Paris in 1825. If it was exhibited by the artist during his lifetime, this can only have been in his studio. Greuze had been accepted as a candidate member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1755 but in 1767, when it was probably painted, he was barred from showing at the Salon because after twelve years and several reminders he had failed to submit a reception piece. In the end his submission to both the academy and the Salon in 1769 was Septimius Severus Reproaching Caracalla (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which he judged a failure in that he was accepted in the lesser category of genre rather than as a history painter. He then withdrew from exhibiting publicly for decades thereafter. Greuze came from a laboring family in the provinces and presumably was uneducated, though he followed a traditional course of training as a painter and draftsman in Paris and later in Rome. While observant and a skilled interpreter of the domestic dramas of daily life, he can have had only limited knowledge of classical mythology. In his choice of subject he may have been influenced by Rembrandt, whose so-called Jupiter and Danaë (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg) was in Paris at the time, as Gary Schwartz (1984) pointed out. The famous Rembrandt, from the collection of the well-known connoisseur and collector Pierre Crozat (1665–1740), then belonged to his nephew, Louis Antoine, who would shortly sell it to Catherine the Great of Russia (1729–1796). It has been suggested that this very large mythological painting may at first have been envisioned by Greuze as a reception piece, but then abandoned, for reasons which are not recorded.
[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
?the artist (until d. 1805); ?his daughter, Caroline Greuze, Paris (from 1805); [Augustin] Lapeyrière, Paris (until 1825; his sale, Lacoste, Henry, Paris, April 19ff., 1825, no. 185, as "Jupiter et Danaé," 54 p. x 71 p., for Fr 801 to Dubois); ?Everard Rhoné [or Rosné] (in 1846); Monsieur Bonnet (by 1860–85; his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 2, 1885, no. 1, for Fr 30,000 or 40,000 to Brame); Monsieur Levesque, Paris (in 1900); [Trotti, Paris, in 1923]; baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris (by 1926–at least 1929); [Wildenstein, Paris]; William Randolph Hearst, New York (by 1939–41; his sale, Hammer Galleries, New York, March 25, 1941, no. 301-4, to ?Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, New York, ?from 1941; sold to Abrams]; Harry N. Abrams, New York (by 1969–70) and [Wildenstein, New York, 1970]
Paris. 26, Boulevard des Italiens [Francis Petit]. "Tableaux et dessins de l'école française, principalement du XVIIIe siècle, tirés de collections d'amateurs," 1860, no. 386 [not in 1860 catalogue or supplement; see Bürger 1860].
Paris. Exposition Internationale Universelle. "Exposition Centennale de l'art français (1800–1889)," May–November 1900, no. 334 (as "Égine et Jupiter," lent by M. Levesque).
Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum. "Exposition rétrospective de l'art français," July 3–October 3, 1926, no. 59 (as "Jupiter et Égine," lent by Baron Maurice de Rothschild).
San Francisco. Golden Gate International Exposition. "Masterworks of Five Centuries," 1939, no. 116 (as "Jupiter and Danaë," lent by William Randolph Hearst).
New York. Wildenstein. "Nude in Painting," November 1–December 1, 1956, no. 15.
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Benefit Exhibition for Arthritis Foundation," 1968, no catalogue.
New York. Wildenstein & Co. "Gods & Heroes: Baroque Images of Antiquity," October 30, 1968–January 4, 1969, no. 17 (as "Aegina Visited by Jupiter", lent anonymously).
Dijon. Musée des Beaux-Arts. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805," June 4–July 31, 1977, no. 65.
Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit," September 24–December 31, 1979, no. 57.
"Faits divers." Gazette des beaux-arts 8 (November 1, 1860), p. 192.
W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré]. "Exposition de tableaux de l'école française ancienne tirés de collections d'amateurs." Gazette des beaux-arts 8 (November 15, 1860), pp. 236–37, ill. between pp. 236 and 237 (etching by L. Flameng), views "Danaé," lent by M. Bonnet, with mixed feelings; suggests that it was in the estate of the painter, as he remembers seeing it in the home of Caroline Greuze.
Théodore Lejeune. Guide théorique et pratique de l'amateur de tableaux. Vol. 1, Paris, 1864, p. 278, as "Danaé," in the Bonnet collection, from Rhoné.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, p. 347, as exhibited in 1860 on the boulevard des Italiens; with dimensions of 1 m 50 by 1 m [ed. 1906, p. 77, corrected to 1 m 50 by 2 m].
Alphonse Bacheret. Une centaine de peintres: The Works of One Hundred Great Masters (Engraved) with Descriptive Text. Philadelphia, [1895?], fascicule 9–10, pl. 83, as "Danae".
"Les Expositions d'art des deux palais des Champs-Élysées: Le Grand Palais, l'Exposition centenale." Le Temps (supplement) (May 1, 1900), p. 1.
J. Martin and Ch. Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de Jean-Baptiste Greuze [supplement to C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze]. Paris, 1905, pp. 5, 107, no. 37, ill., as "Danaë"; state—in error—that it figured in the 1842 sale of Caroline Greuze; list a sketch in the La Caze collection at the Louvre.
J. J. Foster. French Art from Watteau to Prud'hon. Vol. 3, London, 1907, p. 37.
"Trotti et Cie." La Renaissance de l'art français 6 (January 1923), p. 362, ill. opp. p. 360.
Gaston Brière. Musée national du Louvre: Catalogue des peintures exposées dans les galeries. Vol. 1, École française. Paris, 1924, p. 120, under no. 377, calls the Louvre "Danaé" a sketch for the painting.
Louis Gillet inLa peinture au Musée du Louvre. Vol. 1, École française. Paris, 1929, pp. 67–68, calls the Louvre "Égine et Jupiter" (pl. 78) a sketch for ours, an unfinished work that never left the artist's studio.
Masterworks of Five Centuries. Exh. cat., Golden Gate International Exposition. San Francisco, 1939, unpaginated, no. 116, ill., as engraved by Desboutin.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. French XVIII Century Painters. London, 1948, p. 243.
"Without Benefit of Labels." Art News 67 (December 1968), pp. 35, 58, ill., observe that "the exaggerated 'high moral tone' is played down" here.
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 89, ill.
Edgar Munhall. Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805. Ed. Joseph Focarino. Exh. cat.Hartford, 1976, pp. 12, 138–40, no. 65, ill., publishes (no. 64) a preparatory drawing (private collection, Paris) for the figure of Aegina and notes that there is a study for her head in the Louvre; suggests our picture was an unfinished attempt at a reception piece for the Academy, and comments on qualities it shares with "Septimus Severus Reproaching Caracalla", the work the artist submitted; mentions a small copy in the Ricketts sale, Paris, December 8–12, 1846, lot 423.
Robert Rosenblum. "The Greuze Exhibition at Hartford and Elsewhere." Burlington Magazine 119 (February 1977), pp. 146, 149, fig. 107, proposes Jupiter and Semele as the subject; the old woman would be Juno, disguised as Semele's servant, Beroe, who "persuaded Semele to request that the god come to her bed in his most majestic and potent—and therefore fatal—form of clouds, thunder, and lightning"; finds Greuze's "erotic mythology" prophetic of certain works by Jacques Louis David.
Michael Levey. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805)." Master Drawings 15, no. 3 (1977), p. 281, as, conceivably, Semele, suggesting that the mirror would hint at her fatal vanity.
Antoine Schnapper. "Review of Edgar Munhall, 'Jean Baptiste Greuze,' 1977." Art Bulletin 60, no. 2 (June 1978), p. 375, perhaps Jupiter and Semele.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 378, 384, fig. 681 (color).
Gary Schwartz. Letter to Walter Liedtke. February 9, 1984, notes that Rembrandt's "Jupiter and Danae" or "Jupiter and Aegina" was in the Crozat collection in Greuze's time and wonders whether Greuze was inspired by it.
Paul Mitchell. "A Signed Frame by Jean Chérin." International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship 4 (1985), p. 154 n. 14.
James Thompson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 31–33, fig. 27, ill. (color).
Mark Ledbury. Sedaine, Greuze and the Boundaries of Genre. Oxford, 2000, pp. 170–71, pl. 23, comments on similarities to "Septimus Severus" which suggest that the MMA painting immediately precedes it or is contemporaneous; finds the sketch for the figure in a private collection, Paris, bold and muscular, while in the sketch in the Sexton collection and in the painting, Greuze substitutes an adolescent girl; observes that "this process of deliberate transformation of the adult into the adolescent, and the rather troubling and stilted effect it has, continues Greuze's tendency to use the adolescent as a conduit for all adult dilemma".
Guillaume Faroult inFragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin. Ed. Guillaume Faroult. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg. Paris, 2015, p. 142, under nos. 40–41.
The frame is from Paris and dates to about 1765–70 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This exceptional Transitional frame spans the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods. Its back frame is made of oak and the upper frame is carved of limewood. Mitred corners are secured with tapered keys. The lotus carved sight edge lies within a delicate carved pearl passage flanked by fluting. The lavishly ornamented and animated carved corners with acanthus flower centers and cabochon surrounded by scrolling acanthus leaves are set in rocaille cartouches. Volute end swept rails at the top edge connect the corners to sunflower centered rocaille cartouches at the centers. A deep hollow falls outward to the carved guilloche ornamented back edge whose perimeter echoes the top edge. Distinctive delicately carved ivy sprays ornament the inner hollow. Expertly regilded in the twentieth century with burnish and matte water gilding, a narrow painted slip has been added at the sight edge. Frames of this type have been attributed to the Royal frame maker Jean Cherin (1733–1785) based on similar stamped examples.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
This painting was engraved by Marcelin Gilbert Desboutin (1823–1902) and etched by Léopold Flameng (1831–1911).
Artist: After Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French, Tournus 1725–1805 Paris)Date: after 1777Medium: Pastel on toned (now oxidized) wove paper, mounted on a wood strainerAccession: 83.2.467On view in:Not on view