Foreshades of Grey (7)

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 and legs already parted, as juicy young flesh fattened up for a king’s dish; the sensual prettiness of the picture is suddenly obscene; she’s not in control, having fun, like Marilyn, she is just a commodity.

Louise O’Murphy did not have the comfortable middle-class upbringing of Madame de Pompadour, who had the choice of remaining respectable Madame d’Étioles, the most brilliant salonniere of Parisian society, but preferred to pursue her ambition of becoming the king’s official mistress, the first bourgeoise to occupy the position reserved in the ancien regime for aristocratic women. She and her mother (who had an influential lover of her own) had been planning it for years – as nowadays, when commoners can marry into royalty without furore, a socially ambitious mother might manoeuvre her good-looking, well-educated daughter into marrying the heir to the throne.

Being a mistress did not carry the social disgrace of being an actress, even though acting itself was regarded as a noble art form, suitable for bourgeoisie and aristocracy to show off to one another in private. Much as the young Jeanne Poisson loved acting and excelled in amateur productions, she and her family would never have considered such an unrespectable profession for her. Continue reading