Art is divine

Libertin Entertainment

By Alessandra Cenna







François Boucher 1703-1770

Foot study, circa 1751-1752, pastel,

Paris, Carnavalet museum - History of Paris

Carnavalet Museum / Paris Museums

The exhibition "The Empire of the Senses: from Boucher to Greuze" will soon be held at the Cognacq-Jay Museum, a splendid residence in the heart of the Marais, in eight of its rooms normally used for permanent collections.


The old woodwork decor has given way to an intimate, hushed atmosphere, in deep blue tones reminiscent of 18th century boudoirs.

This exhibition is a true sensual journey into the universe of passions and carnal desires. It commemorates the 250th anniversary of the death of François Boucher. This painter of Louis XV remains the key artist in the development of erotic art of his time. He immortalized the secrets of alcoves by representing feminine beauty in all its voluptuousness.


Her goddesses show off their charms at leisure in languid suggestive positions, digging their loins to showcase their bare buttocks, playing with the curves of their bodies to underline the ecstasy offered. Libertine nymphs or superb odalisques, all submit with delight to the empire of the senses.

The Age of Enlightenment prohibited the posing of undressed models. The artists of this time, masters and students such as Watteau, Greuze and Fragonard, competed in skill to represent the most carnal impulses, taking as models women with light morals.


Boucher, the famous "painter of the Graces", symbolizes the French Rococo. He was of course performing commissioned works on the theme of pastoral care showing chaste love between gentle shepherds and innocent little girls.

Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Le Jugement de Pâris, circa 1718-1721,

oil on wood, Paris, Louvre museum, department of Paintings

RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Franck Raux

François Boucher (1703-1770), 

The Brown Odalisque, 1745,

 oil on canvas, Paris, Louvre museum,

Painting department 

RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Tony Querrec

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), 

Sketch for La Cruche cassée 1772 oil on canvas, Paris,

Musée du Louvre, Department of Paintings

© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Franck Raux

His more secret paintings were meant to ignite the senses of the wealthy and libertine elite who threw parties in the very private salons of sumptuous mansions. The Orient made people fantasize and, in 1745, Boucher unveiled his painting "L'Odalisque Brune", a woman, apparently his wife, naked and lying on her stomach, her thighs spread, falsely surprised at the indiscreet presence of spectators. The painting exudes lust over pearls, in the intoxicating scrolls of scent burners to the softness of the sofa.The odalisque in his lascivious pose invites guilty pleasures in the hollow of his sheets.


This painting, unknown to the general public at the time, was much criticized by Diderot, who found it indecent and shameless. He even accused Boucher of prostituting his own wife, which did not prevent the painter from making three replicas of this work so vilified and so appreciated.


In period paintings, female figures were presented as mythological figures. Thus, Danae and the nymphs observed by a concupiscent satyr eagerly spying on the offered flesh introduced the theme of the voyeur for whom the painting was made. The loves of ancient gods were thus summoned to stage the omnipotence of human desire.

The romantic encounter is mentioned, suggested but never fully disclosed. The kisses, caresses and intertwined bodies evoke the frenzy of the impulses of disheveled eroticism but are limited to banter, the exchange of languid sighs and the beginnings of a fiery french kiss.


The sensual load in Fragonard or Boudin becomes more unrestrained but, masked by the sheets and their folds, without crossing the limits of decency. The violence of desire and the loss of virginity were represented in some paintings by symbols such as the egg, the broken jug, the burnt candle or the spilled milk.

François Boucher 1703-1770

Lying woman seen from the back called Le Sommeil, circa 1740, black stone, sanguine and chalk on brown paper, Paris, Beaux-Arts © Beaux-arts de Paris / RMN-GP

The exhibition leads the visitor to the discovery of erotic and sensual codes and symbols invisible to the eye of the uninitiated viewer. A magnificent plan of the Paris Libertine of the 18th century highlights the places of pleasure and encounters. 

The addresses are numerous, from brothels, artists' studios, the residence of the young mistresses of Louis XV to the hospital for the care of venereal diseases, a world from the most joyful to the most morbid revolved around this empire of meaning.







At the end of the route, an erotica cabinet, a cabinet of intimate curiosities, contains around sixty pornographic objects. He unveils his miniatures, secret boxes and books, all from a private collection, the ideal final for this exhibition which explores the theme of Love in its most licentious form and reveals the most secret shores of the erotic imagination of the Age of Enlightenment.


François Boucher 1703-1770, Sleeping Venus, circa 1740, oil on canvas,

Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

 The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts










Cognacq-Jay Museum

8, rue d ’Elzévir 75003 Paris


Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), 

The Beginnings of the Model, 1770-1773, oil on canvas, 

Paris, Institut de France, Jacquemart-André museum © Studio Sébert

François Boucher (1703-1770), Sylvie delivered by Aminte, 1755, oil on canvas, Paris, Banque de France © Banque de France