Henri-Pierre Picou, (French, 1824-1895)
Innocence Seduced by Love, 1886
Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 32 inches
Henri-Pierre Picou was born in the French city of Nantes, but received his academic training in the Paris studios of Paul Delaroche and Charles Gleyre. He debuted at the Salon in 1847, and his earliest works exemplified the neo-gréc style of Gleyre, as well as Picou’s friends Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave Boulanger. Picou primarily painted allegorical, mythological, or religious subjects, but as he grew older his attention focused more on creating playfully erotic images that were popular among the public.
The present work, an allegory of seduction, is filled with telling iconographic details: the overturned basket of roses, the cat, and a winged cupid about to cut the yarn. A smiling, seated maiden turns toward Cupid as he fondles her breasts while the old woman, who represents traditional moral standards, does not see the transgression of pre-nuptial chastity — symbolized by the cut yarn. Picou was inspired by a long line of artists who painted this popular theme, such as Jean-Baptiste Greuze in his Broken Eggs (1756, Metropolitan Museum of Art), although without the moral interdiction of earlier generations. In Picou’s version, the action takes place in an unspecified outdoor setting as a playful, sensuous scene, not meant to shock or to impart a moral tale but merely to titillate and entertain its knowing male audience.