Venus and Adonis

Artist or maker:
Huet, Jean-Baptiste (b.1745, d.1811)
Place of production:
Paris, France
oil on canvas
Type of object:
Accession number:


A pair of oval paintings showing goddesses attending their lovers are rare examples of Jean-Baptiste Huet's mythological paintings. This painting and its pendant (acc. no. 59.2) relate to prints that may have publicised Huet's ability during his foray into this unusual subject matter. Huet's figure of Venus here shows his debt to the works of François Boucher.

Huet became a member of the Académie royale de peinture et sculpture in 1769 as a painter of animal subjects. He also painted pictures of idealised peasants as well as groups of cupids, often inspired by the works of François Boucher. He designed cartoons for tapestries made by the manufactory at Beauvais and textile patterns for the Oberkampf manufactory. He exhibited paintings at the Salon until 1789. In 1779, he showed a painting of 'Hercules and Omphale' which was not well received. It was Huet's first exhibition of a history painting. The critics widely felt it was a failure and he should have stuck to painting animals (see C. Gabillot, 'Les Hüet: Jean Baptiste et ses trois fils', Paris, 1903, pp. 65-70). The Waddesdon paintings, also of mythological subjects, were made around the same time as the 1779 Salon painting.

Gilles Demarteau (1722-1776) and his nephew Gilles-Antoine (1750-1802) engraved works after Huet in crayon manner in full colour, replicating the appearance of pastel. These engravings helped publicise Huet's compositions.

The pendant painting (acc. no. 59.2) of Diana and Endymion, is related to a coloured print after Huet engraved by J. Auguste l'Eveillé and sold by Gilles-Antoine Demarteau from his address in the Cloître Saint-Benoît after 1776. L'Eveillé also made some prints of cupids, peasants and tapestry designs after Huet between 1783-1785 (see Bibliothèque nationale de France, Marcel Roux; Inventaire du fonds français: graveurs du dix-huitième siècle; 15 vols; Paris; 1930-2004; vol. 7, pp. 488, 499). There is a related engraving of Jupiter in the guise of Diana and Callisto. These two engravings are oval in format like the present paintings. Huet may have made the Waddesdon paintings after someone bought and liked the engravings and commissioned painted versions. There may have been a related engraving of Venus and Adonis yet to be identified.

The figure of Venus has some relation to François Boucher's 'Aurora and Cephalus' of1764, Musée du Louvre, inv. 2710. The pose of Venus is almost identical to Aurora, although the right arm is extended rather than bent and resting on a cloud. Boucher's painting, with its goddess watching over a sleeping figure, may have suggested to Huet the subject of the companion painting of Diana and Endymion. Boucher's painting was made for the Gobelins manufactory for a tapestry for the King's apartment in Compiègne. It has a pendant showing Vertumnus and Pomona that does not relate to Huet's designs. The composition of Aurora was engraved by Saint-Aubin (see Alexandre Ananoff; Francois Boucher; vol. 2; Paris; 1976; p. 156, no. 481).

The love stories of the mythological characters of Venus and Adonis, Diana and Endymion and Aurora and Cephalus were similar in character: goddesses who fell in love with beautiful youthful mortals. The goddesses' power over their lovers is demonstrated in the positioning of Diana and Aurora, looking over their sleeping forms. Venus and Adonis were slightly different in that Adonis ignored Venus's plea to forgo the dangers of the hunt. He was eventually killed by a wild boar. In this painting, Adonis is awake. Venus points to his hunting dog, explaining the dangers of leaving her bower. She indicates to the doves in the foreground, a traditional symbol of love. However, they appear to be fighting, indicating the discord that will soon inflict the lovers, leading to Adonis's death.

Phillippa Plock, 2011

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
1016 x 816 (oval image)
968 x 800 - sight
Signature & date:
signed and dated, lower right: J. B. hüet 1778
[on verso of frame, lower left, pencil]
No 83
Félix Blachet
[on verso of frame, lower centre]

J Chenue
French Packer
10 Great St. Andrew Street,
Shaftsbury Avenue,
London, W.C.
Printed label
[on verso of frame, centre left, printed and handwritten label]

[on verso of stretcher, lower right, handwritten circular label]

Bedroom Corridor Huet: opposite terace sitting room right.
[on verso of frame and stretcher, lower left, two handwritten labels]


Owned by Félix Blachet, active 19th century; acquired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898); inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); accepted by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963; given to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1990.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1990



Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 246, cat. no. 112, ill.

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