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Staff Report

LONDON, 24 November 2006—The French 18th century is familiar to us as the Age of Reason but it was also an age of passion, desire and seduction. The many aspects of erotic desire were explored by artists and devoured by connoisseurs, private collectors and the French public alike. A new show opening today at Somerset House explores themes of love and eroticism in 18th century French art from the collections of The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Entitled The Triumph of Eros: Art and Seduction in 18th Century France, the impetus for this exhibition, and at its core, is a recently discovered collection of rare French erotic engravings collected in the 19th century probably in secret by Tsar Nicolas I. The collection has never been seen outside St Petersburg.

Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749),
A scene of an artist painting a seal of chastity
on his wife, from a tale by Jean de La Fontaine, 1732,
Oil on canvas, 30.5 x 24.5 cm
Photo courtesy of Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House

The show also probes the ways in which the erotic in 18th century French art could easily slip over into the pornographic, the decent into the indecent. Works of art by Lancret, Nattier and Fragonard, have been chosen to explore the nature of disorderly passion, voyeurism and sexual licence, pushing at the boundaries of what was, and perhaps still is, deemed aesthetically acceptable.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated colour catalogue published by Fontanka with essays by scholars and curators from The State Hermitage Museum and the Courtauld Institute of Art.

The Triumph of Eros: Art and Seduction in 18th Century France
24 November 2006 - 8 April 2007
Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House
150, Strand
London WC2R 1JP
Tel: (44) 020 78 45 46 00

CK Related Archives: Film Review: Marie Antoinette

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