Exhibition past 19 May to 18 July 2021

The Empire of the Senses

From Boucher to Greuze
Odalisque brune

Embark for Kythira, the island of love, following the path of French painter François Boucher in its most daring creations.

More than at any other time, the theme of Love occupies in the 18th century a central place in the arts. Philosophers, dramatists, novelists and artists, all of them explore the theme of love affections and desire, for the greatest delight of the elites. Considered as the century of pleasure and libertinage, this century brings the advent of the pleasure of the senses. Gallantry is transformed into a game throughout society that gives free rein to pleasure and physical desire.  

For the philosophical dictionary, voluptuousness, "the pleasure of bodies and senses," is that feeling "which is not followed by any regret or repentance, and whose enjoyment is still renewed by the memory and the help of the imagination." (1751). As for libertinage, it describes in the eighteenth century a widespread practice of the sociability of elites where sexual consumption is clearly dissociated from feeling. Thus, this century of Love offers, under the brush of the best painters, a profusion of light-hearted scenes, with shepherds and shepherdesses, alcoves where amorous passions take place, boudoirs where languid sighs are exchanged and desires are disappointed, so many theaters of the games of love and chance.

On the occasion of the anniversary of the death of François Boucher  (1703-1770), the exhibition organized by the Cognacq-Jay museum proposes  to explore the theme of Love in the Age of Enlightenment by considering its most extreme form, the licentious iconography - paintings, drawings and prints that deal with the desire as  they arouse, in the viewer, the excitement of the senses. The ambition is to replace Boucher's most provocative works in a history of love, from Antoine Watteau to Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

Initially scheduled in 2020, the exhibition has been postponed to 2021 due to the global pandemic.



  • Annick Lemoine, directrice du musée Cognacq-Jay
  • Assistée de Sixtine de Saint-Léger, attachée de conservation au musée Cognacq-Jay

Expert committee

  • Guillaume Faroult, chief curator, in charge of 18th century French paintings and English and American paintings, Louvre museum
  • Françoise Joulie, art historian
  • Alastair Laing, honorary curator at the National Trust, London


Supported by

With the special participation of the Louvre museum

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