Foreshades of Grey (11)

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 or, Behind the Rococo Clock Face

detaildetail of Boucher’s 1756 portrait of Madame de Pompadour

Among the learned books in Madame de Pompadour’s library, there was a unique volume about the rivers of France which had been written, and some of it printed, many years before by a diligent and inquisitive eight year old boy, based on his lessons in geography and typography.

Louis XV’s Cours des principaux fleuves et rivières de l’Europe (Courses of the Principal Rivers and Streams of Europe), written in 1718, which the adult man gave to his mistress as a token of the conscientious king that the playboy of Versailles had once wanted to be, survives in the Bibliothèque nationale.

The little print shop, which was built for Louis XV in the Tuileries nearly sixty-five years before Marie Antoinette’s fantasy-farm was installed at Le Petit Trianon, had a serious educative purpose to instill…

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Foreshades of Grey (7)

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or, All about the other Eves

Among his output of pastorals, genre scenes and mythological subjects, Boucher supplied erotic pictures of fashionable young beauties to the French court; some of his nudes cross the line from art to pimping, as was commented at the time by Diderot.

louise o'murphyBoucher The Blonde Odalisque 1752 Oil on canvas Alte Pinakothek, Munich

In one of the most famous images of mainstream erotica ever produced, the model in this equivalent of a Playboy centrefold, is traditionally supposed to be Louise O’Murphy (1737-1814), the convent-educated fourteen year-old daughter of one of the many Irish Jacobite immigrant families in France.

It is far more explicit than Marilyn Monroe’s nude calendar photo shoot two hundred years later (by Tom Kelley, 1952).

Marilyn1952 - Copy

Marilyn’s joyful curves, colouring and sweet corrupted innocence would have suited Boucher.

Whoever the 18th century blonde odalisque really is, she is being presented, with her buttocks displayed…

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Foreshades of Grey (6)

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or, The Royal Stag

The king’s promiscuity was an affair of state. It made government vulnerable to abuse from the wrong kind of woman pushed on him by a court faction, with domestic or foreign policy agendas, a scenario as familiar to modern republics as autocracies of any time. He was very lucky to find the rational, loyal and responsible Madame de Pompadour, or rather, that she introduced herself to him.

louis XV

Nattier, Portrait of Louis XV of France, 1745. Oil on canvas The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
He was known as the handsomest man at Versailles; he was also the most libidinous and depressed. Here, portrayed in the year he moved his new mistress Madame d’Étioles, into Versailles, he looks disconcertingly like a chubby Dan Stevens, but Ryan Gosling would be better casting to convey his enigmatic emotional isolation.

He needed but was not obsessed with sex; he spent far…

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Marie Antoinette and the Petit Trianon – Madame Guillotine

The Petit Trianon is a sumptuous jewellery box of a house, tucked away in the Versailles park. Designed in 1762 by Ange-Jacques Gabriel and paid for by Louis XV, it was intended as a present for Madame de Pompadour – its elegant lines a perfect setting for her own delicate, exquisite beauty. Sadly, however, Madame de Pompadour died before her romantic Versailles hideaway, her maison de plaisance in fact, was completed and instead it ended up in the hands of her successor, Madame du Barry, who despite the lurid tales attached to her background, had some seriously good taste in art and furnishings going on.

However, the Trianon’s most celebrated owner is of course Marie Antoinette and it is to her memory that the building is dedicated today, which is tough cheese for its other famous female inhabitants over the years, which range from Pauline Bonaparte to the Empress Eugènie, who was obsessed with Marie Antoinette and had the Petit Trianon restored to…

via Marie Antoinette and the Petit Trianon – Madame Guillotine.