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. The Salon picture was purchased by Napoleon III for his personal collection. In 1875, New Yorker John Wolfe commissioned the present, slightly smaller, replica from Cabanel. The composition embodies ideals of academic art: mythological subject, graceful modeling, silky brushwork, and perfected form. This style was perennially popular with collectors, even as it was challenged by artists seeking a more personal interpretation of truth to nature, such as Courbet.
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John Wolfe, New York (1875–d. 1894; commissioned from the artist; sale, Leavitt, New York, April 5–6, 1882, bought in)
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. "The Impressionist Epoch," 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. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie. "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," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn]. "Art at the Seventh Regiment Fair." Art Amateur (December 1, 1879), p. 4, as "Venus".
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed. The Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, , 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).
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.
John Denison Champlin Jr. and Charles C. Perkins, ed. 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 (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).
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 16.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. 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 Impressionist Epoch. Exh. brochure, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [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. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 231.
Gary Tinterow inTreasures 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).
James H. Rubin. Manet's Silence and the Poetics of Bouquets. Cambridge, Mass., 1994, p. 54, fig. 14, compares it to Manet's "Olympia" (1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), confusing it with Cabanel's first version.
Michael Kimmelman. "At the Met with Hans Haacke: Peering at a Wide World Beyond Works on a Wall." New York Times (December 9, 1994), p. C32, reports that Haacke relates this work to Courbet's "Woman with a Parrot" (MMA 29.100.57).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 431, ill.
Michael Kimmelman. Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere. New York, 1998, pp. 221–22, 224, ill. [text similar to Kimmelman 1994].
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.
Mishoe Brennecke. "Double Début: Edouard Manet and 'The Execution of Maximilian' in New York and Boston, 1879-80." Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 3 (Autumn 2004) [http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn04/296--double-debut-edouard-manet-and-the-execution-of-maximilian-in-new-york-and-boston-1879-80], notes that its display at the Seventh Regiment Armory [New York 1879] coincided with the exhibition of Manet’s “The Execution of Maximilian” (1868-69; Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim) further downtown, in a basement space on Broadway and Eighth Street.
Gary Tinterow inThe 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).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inThe 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).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces 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).
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.
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.
Marc Gotlieb. The Deaths of Henri Regnault. Chicago, 2016, p. 102, fig. 49.
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.
Jennette Mullaney, associate email marketing manager, spoke with Rebecca Rabinow, associate curator in the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, about The Horse Fair, a monumental painting by Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822–1899).
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