OIL PAINTING: A Venus, 1869
In 1867 Moore painted a subjectless female nude entitled A Wardrobe. It was probably after viewing this work in Moore's studio that Frederick Leyland encouraged the artist to paint a life-size Venus to add to his collection of aesthetic nude pictures. A Venus was an ambitious and risky undertaking for Moore given the academic status of the nude and what he termed "the unfortunate prejudice which exists against this kind of picture" (letter to Leyland, 22 Dec. 1868), and eventually Leyland's prevarication over the scale and purchase of the painting caused Moore both to reduce the dimensions and to adjust his original composition.
Moore's revisions to the design of A Venus would suggest that he was experimenting with the nude in a similar aesthetic vein as Watts and Leighton. The use of the indefinite article in the title shows he was seeking to represent a type of ideal beauty rather than the mythological Roman goddess. The incorporation of Japanese accessories and the prominence accorded the date in the cartouche would further indicate that he was pursuing an ideal that transcended the vocabulary of the ancient world. References to the Venus de Milo in the torso and contrapposto, and to the male Diadumenos or fillet-binder in the figure's action of winding a ribbon around her head, provide evidence of Moore's intention of using the sculptural remains of the past, rather than a literary text, as a basis from which to assemble his ideal. The androgyny of the figure functions to separate the body from any particular identity, thereby reinforcing its artificiality. The imposition of graceful movement upon a sculptural torso cancels any hint of the erotic, and the autonomy of the figure is accentuated by the lack of facial expression and the depilated inpenetrable pudenda. Moore's application of a limited range of pale chromatic tones to a coarse canvas serve to suppress the rich saturated properties of the oil medium, lending the surface the texture of a wall painting.