Saturday, September 6, 2014

La Toilette Intime by Antoine Watteau

This erotic confection is by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and was believed to have been painted some time between 1715 and his death, at the age of just 36, in 1721.  Although his work was hugely influential on eighteenth century art he was not that well known during his life, lacking in aristocratic patrons and producing works for a comparatively small group of middle class enthusiasts.

Agent Triple P first became aware of this painting at about the age of 12 from a black and white illustration in a book of his father's The Female Nude in European Painting by the French art historian Jean-Louis Vaudoyer (1883-1963).  The painting was called The Secret Toilet in that book (it does not seem to have an official name bestowed upon it by Watteau), which added to its allure to a young Triple P.

A maid offers her mistress a bowl containing a sponge for washing her intimate areas.  The whole picture is erotically charged; with the mistress brazenly presenting her groin between elegantly spread thighs, whilst her servant gazes raptly upon the forbidden area.   Some critics have decided that it is almost a parody of a religious scene with the maid kneeling before the white altar of the bed and worshipping her mistress' sex.   Certainly Watteau's implication here is not that the haughty woman would wash herself but that her maid will soon be rubbing her sponge deliciously over her mistresses loins.

There are at least two painting based on Watteau's original by some of his followers.  Interestingly they are both mirror images of the original and they may be based on some of the many prints of Watteau's work which were issued after his death and which increased his popularity enormously.  They both use the same colour scheme for the maid's clothes so may have been been based on a viewing of the original painting.  Both mistress figures wear very much more clothes than  in Watteau's version and, in the second one, the maid is black.  Neither give the erotic frisson of Watteau's original, however.

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