Musings: Boucher, Women and Ownership in Rococo Painting

Copy of Dutch Dollhouse Culture 1 (2)

The open display of the female body in the private arts becomes synonymous with questions of ownership. Boucher’s painting of the nude is intimately bound with the patron. In the 18th century, sensual scenes involving European mistresses serve to demonstrate what Cavendish identifies as a “contemporary vogue for erotic intrigue among the French nobility”.

odalisque-with-slaveJean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with Slave, 1858.

Indeed, in two instances Boucher uses the guise of ‘the Odalisque’ (synonymous with Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in the 19th century) to portray women involved with these conventions. A man commissioning a painting of his wife or mistress may be asserting a claim on what is his property, yet, we see women in the Rococo period presenting themselves as available, sensual beings. Here, it could be argued that these women are playing to convention in order to benefit themselves and further their influence on society through the flaunting of their sexuality.


François Boucher, Louise O’Murphy c. 1752, oil on canvas, 59 x 73 cm., (23.23 × 28.74 in), Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Boucher’s Mademoiselle O’Murphy, 1755, is a case in point. Typically identified as a courtesan to Louis XV, Boucher paints the length of the young girl in a provocative pose. In this aspect, she is offering her body for service and could well be awaiting her next client. In his catalog essay Ozerkov quotes from a 1746 discourse by Luc de Clapier Vauvenargue that “suggests a man falls in love not with a real woman but with an image he creates of her” and Mademoiselle O’Murphy well embodies her part in playing the coquette in this painting. The display of her beauty and her visual appeal could be a form of erotic persuasion, pertaining to a conscious act of vanity. At the same time however, the modern viewer is made aware that this young woman is fresh from childhood and in a position of vulnerability. Her role is decorative and she is placed visually in an erotic sub-genre where her posture and nudity equates to ‘availability’.


François Boucher, L’Odalisque Brune, 1745.

Art critic Denis Diderot accused Boucher of “prostituting his own wife” in L’Odalisque, 1745 and, as an extension of this, Mademoiselle O’Murphy makes evident transactions of the body and extramarital relationships. The Odalisque shows the orientalist influence of ‘the other’ across these paintings, indulging in and fantasising the female concubine in her harem for its exoticism. In spite of L’Odalisque showing more refinement in an aristocratic form of rest, this view of women is derivative from the slave, with Boucher’s wife looking down rather than out from the painting. Her exposure is to her husband as a source of pleasure: Here is his wifely property. Each painting gives an enticing view of its women in what could also serve as an explicit pun on sex and the anal taboo. Ultimately, these women are viewed for being aesthetically and sexually pleasing.

Interested in Femininity and the Rococo? Start here.

Sources Used: 

Cavendish, Marshall, Sex and Society (Marshall Cavendish, 2010).

Diderot, Denis and John Goodman, Diderot on Art: The salon of 1767 (Yale University Press, 1995).

Pain, Stephen, ‘French Rococo: Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard’, Escape into Life, n.d., http:// [accessed 01 August 2015].

Riding, Alan, ‘Art From Russia with Love (C’est Français Naturellement’, The New York Times, 27 January 2007, [accessed 20 August 2015].

Teo, Hsu-Ming, Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels (University of Texas Press, 2012).

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