Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Franco-Irish Venus: Marie-Louise O' Murphy de Boisfaily by François Boucher

This is very, very close to being our favourite nude representation of a girl (she was fourteen when this picture was painted) in any medium.

Mary-Louise O'Murphy de Boisfaily was the fifth daughter of an army officer of Irish extraction, Daniel O'Murphy de Boisfaily, who had taken to shoemaking after his retirement. She was born in Rouen on October 21st 1737. After her father died her mother took her to Paris where she traded in second hand clothes whilst finding work for her daughters. Mary-Louise became a dancer at L'Opera and a model. Casanova knew her (she is mentioned in his diaries) and she may have been his mistress briefly. Casanova certainly introduced her to Boucher who painted this picture of her in 1752.

It has been argued that the picture was a direct invitation to Louis XV; demonstrating that she was available to be his mistress. Rather like leaving a photographic postcard of yourself in a phone box outside a Park Lane hotel, we suppose.  There was no issue about presenting a fourteen year old girl as a sexual object in France at the time.  The age of consent was, after all, ten during this period and girls could get legally married at twelve. The age of consent went up to 13 in 1863 where it remained until 1945 when it was extended to the current fifteen.

This appears to be the original sketch, almost certainly done from life, of Marie-Louise and is now in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.   It has a wonderful immediacy about it and demonstrates what a very good draftsman Boucher was.

Louis XV knew a fine piece when he saw it (he liked the painting too) and she quickly became one of his second tier mistresses and stayed so for two years. Louis had an official mistress, of course, Madame de Pompadour, who may have been happy at first for the king to entertain this plump little distraction as she was increasingly exhausted by Louis voracious sexual demands, to the extent that she was taking the feminine, eighteenth century version of Viagra to keep up with him. Mary-Louise bore the king an illegitimate daughter, Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine (1754-1774), but she tried to oust Madame de Pompadour from top mistress spot and was soon kicked out of the court and married off to Comte de Beaufranchet, who must have been very cheered by this development, as Mary-Louise was still only 17. He didn't get to enjoy her for very long, though, as he was killed at the Battle of Rossbach in 1757, where Frederick the Great smashed a combined Franco-Austrian army. Mary-Louise subsequently had two more husbands, including one who was thirty years younger than her who she married at the age of 61! Although she was imprisoned for a time during the French Revolution she survived The Terror and died in 1814 at the age of 77.

The painting now hangs in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. We were lucky enough to see it displayed in an exhibition in Berlin a couple of years ago (and purchased a very splendid mousemat of the picture which we use to this day) and it is a comparatively small picture: about 24" by 29". Just the sort of sized picture Boucher would turn out for the Cabinets of his wealthy gentleman collectors.

Boucher also painted another version of the painting, which is in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, but it doesn't quite have the plump pliancy of the original.

Victoire O'Murphy

There is another very similar picture (in the Louvre) which is believed to be Mary-Louise's older sister Victoire.

Miss Victoire O'Murphy in Turkish costume

This latter painting also exists in a clothed version, which is in a private collection, hence we only have a black and white scan from a fifty year old book in Triple P's library.

This sketch shows the same pose as in the Victoire painting but the lady has a different face from the finished work.  For a long time it was thought that this was a picture of Victoire too, done from life, but examination of Boucher's correspondence now seems to show that this is actually his wife.  Boucher just put a different face on the body for the painting.

This version includes a cupid who seems very interested in Marie-Louise's nether regions.  It is believed that this is from a painting which is now lost.

Boucher (1703-1770) was a prolific artist, producing over 10,000 drawings during his life, and at the time was criticised for churning paintings out for the money. A more telling criticism came from the philosopher Diderot who accused Boucher of "prostituting his own wife" as he had her pose for erotic pictures which he sold to collectors.

This led to increasing notoriety and his art was criticised more and more towards the end of his life, as neo-classicism ousted his frothy, Rococo style.

Triple P also presents Miss Ulla Lindstrom (The Sun newspaper's first Page 3 girl on November 17th 1969) from Penthouse Magazine, November 1969. The pose was an unusual one for the time and we would like to think it was a deliberate echo of Boucher's work; the position of the arms and head is almost identical to the work in the Louvre. The photographer, Bob Guccione, was an artist first and a photographer second. He lived and painted in Paris during the early sixties and would certainly have seen the painting of Victoire O'Murphy in the Louvre. So perhaps a touch of Miss Lindstrom's allure is due to Boucher and his young model of over 200 years previously.

Finally, we have to include Pop Art painter Mel Ramos' (1935-) wonderful Touche Boucher (1972) in which he recreates the famous painting but adds tan lines!

Mel Ramos does Boucher by way of Ursula Andress

1 comment:

  1. For my money, the best modern interpretation of Boucher's sprawled Mlle. O'Murphy is one that I've just seen for the first time here, in another section of your blog: the photo of Lani Todd face-down in the bathtub, playfully shooting the shower spray up between her thighs. (sigh) Both images rank among the sexiest that I've ever seen.