Gift of Harry N. Abrams and Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, Pfeiffer, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds, 1970
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 615
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's daughter, Caroline Greuze, Paris (from 1805); Monsieur Lapeyrière, Paris (until 1825; his sale, Lacoste, Henry, Paris, April 19ff., 1825, no. 185, as "Jupiter et Danaé," 54 p. by 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); [Brame, Paris, from 1885]; Monsieur Levesque, Paris (by 1900–at least 1901); [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, almost certainly to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, New York, ?from 1941; sold to Abrams]; Harry N. Abrams, New York (by 1969–70) and [Wildenstein, New York, 1970]
Paris. Galerie Martinet. "Tableaux et dessins de l'école française, principalement du XVIIIe siècle, tirés de collections d'amateurs," 1860, no. 386 [see Amsterdam 1926 exh. cat.; not in catalogue or supplement].
Paris. Exposition Internationale Universelle. "Exposition Centennale de l'art français (1800–1889)," May, 1900–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," August 15–November 15, 1979, no. 57.
W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré]. "Exposition de tableaux de l'école française ancienne tirés de collections d'amateurs." Gazette des beaux-arts 8 (November 1860), pp. 236–37, ill. (etching by L. Flameng), views this picture, called "Danaë," with mixed feelings; notes that it was added to the exhibit in the boulevard des Italiens; 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; provide dimensions of 1 m 50 by 1 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".
J. Martin and Charles Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de Jean-Baptiste Greuze [published as supplement to C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paris, 1905]. Paris, 1905, p. 5, no. 37, as "Danaë"; state that it figured in the 1842 sale of Caroline Greuze; list the La Caze sketch.
J. J. Foster. French Art from Watteau to Prud'hon. Vol. 3, London, 1907, p. 37.
"Trotti et Cie." La Renaissance 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 Lapeyrière and Bonnet painting.
Louis Gillet inLa peinture au Musée du Louvre. Vol. 1, École française. Paris, 1929, pp. 67–68, calls the Louvre "Égine et Jupiter" 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' which is often so excessive in Greuze's painting as to make him ludicrous to modern eyes, is played down".
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 a third preparatory drawing, in a 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, 16 3/4 x 22 5/8 in.
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, thus the old woman would be "the crafty, jealous Juno, who disguised herself as Semele's servant, Beroe, and persuaded Semele to request that the god come to her bed in his most majestic, potent—and therefore fatal—form of clouds, thunder, and lightning, whence Semele's look of both amorous longing and terror"; notes that Greuze's "erotic mythology" is prophetic of certain works by Jacques-Louis David.
Michael Levey. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805)." Master Drawings 15, no. 3 (1977), p. 281, doubts the identification of the subject as Aegina, and proposes Semele, suggesting that the prominent 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, as 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.
James Thompson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 31–33, fig. 27, ill. (color), states that it has been connected with a desire Greuze expressed to Diderot in 1767 to paint a nude woman.
Mark Ledbury. Sedaine, Greuze and the Boundaries of Genre. Oxford, 2000, pp. 170–71, pl. 23, comments on similarities to "Septime Sévère" which suggest that the MMA painting immediately precedes it or is contemporaneous; remarks that the sketch for the figure in a private collection, Paris, is bold and muscular, while in the sketch in the Sexton collection and in the painting itself, 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 and as a site of the working out of adult trauma".
Guillaume Faroult inFragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin. Ed. Guillaume Faroult. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg. Paris, 2015, p. 142, under nos. 40–41.
This painting was engraved by Marcelin Gilbert Desboutin (1823–1902) and etched by Léopold Flameng (1831–1911).