Art, mythological art, women of mythology

The Sleep of Venus and Cupid by Constance Mayer

Constance Mayer was a French artist who painted portraits, miniatures, genre works and allegorical themes. Mayer was one of the successful women artists following the French Revolution. She had the opportunity to study with Joseph-Benoît Suvée and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, it explains that she adopted soft brush strokes and that she painted some sentimental scenes like her instructors.

In 1802 she began to study with Pierre-Paul Prud’hon; however, they did not have the typical pupil-master relationship, they were more like peers. After 1804 her works were very influenced by Prud’hon.

The Painting

The Sleep of Venus and Cupid by Constance Mayer (1806)

Venus as the goddess of love and sexuality became a popular subject of art during the Renaissance in Europe; since she was a classical figure for whom nudity was the natural state, it was socially acceptable to depict her unclothed and it was allowed a certain degree of erotic beauty in the depiction too.

This painting is today part of the Wallace Collection (London). It was property of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison before being brought by the fourth Marquess of Hertford in 1856. The Marquess lived in Paris during a very important period of French painting, between the years 1850-1870. Analysing his purchases, in general, they reflected the taste of a regular visitor of the annual Salon.

The torch of Venus by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

It follows a previous drawing of Prud’hon, however Mayer’s style, by that time, was very influenced by her teacher. Here the use of atmospheric sfumato and the profusion of putti is inspired in Corregio and Albani, some of Prud’hon’s favourites.

It is the subject of the awakening of love, which in here was complemented by The torch of Venus by Prud’hon as a symbol of ‘Constancy in Love’.

As in many other cases of women artists who were associated with better known male artists, some of her works were in a first moment attributed to Prud’hon and until today is not completely clear exactly what was hers and what was his. This confusion is especially due to fact that they collaborated on several works (he sketched and she made the painting). That is the case of this painting in particular, which was initially attributed to Prud’hon.

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