The French Academic painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889) is well-known for his works depicting classical, mythological and religious themes, apart from his fame as a portrait painter.
From 1844 he exhibited his works at the Paris Salon and had won the Grande Médaille d’Honneur at the Salons of 1865, 1867 and 1878. He painted more or less in the style of William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Both of them are known to have opposed the Impressionist painter Édouard Manet exhibiting his works in the Salon of 1863. However, gradually Impressionism had gained greater acceptance in the later years, and the Academic painters were almost forgotten for a long time.
Alexandre Cabanel’s oil painting titled ‘The Birth of Venus’ (El nacimiento de Venus) has the reputation of being a favorite of Emperor Napoleon III, who bought it for his personal collection. Cabanel also painted a smaller replica (dimension 130 cm x 225 cm) of ‘The Birth of Venus’ in 1875 which is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (see the image above, designed as a widescreen wallpaper), after it was gifted to the museum in 1893 by the painting’s original owner John Wolf.
‘The Birth of Venus’ is inspired by ‘Venus Anadyomene’ (Venus Rising from the Sea), a representation of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. The concept of ‘Aphrodite Rising from the Sea’ was inspired by Phryne, a famous courtesan of extraordinary beauty who lived in Athens of Ancient Greece in the 4th century BC, according to Athenaeus.
Venus Anadyomene (titled variously as The Birth of Venus, Venus Rising from the Sea, or variations of it) is a mythological theme that was repeatedly painted by many artists. The same title ‘The Birth of Venus’ was used by Alexandre Cabanel, Sandro Botticelli, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and Amaury Duval for their versions of Venus Anadyomene. Some other most acclaimed works on the same theme with different titles include ‘Vénus anadyomène, dite aussi Vénus marine’ by Théodore Chassériau, ‘Venus Anadyomène’ by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and ‘Venus Anadyomene’ by Titian.
In exploring Cubism, and what turned out to be a controversial yet pivotal point in the history of Modern Art and Cubism itself, Pablo Picasso painted a modernist depiction of Venus Anadyomene as the central figure of his oil painting titled ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which is now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.