Cupid comes out of storage at the Corcoran


Etienne-Maurice Falconet, The Menacing Cupid, after 1757. Bronze, 33 x 16 x 21 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC William A. Clark Collection

The Corcoran Gallery will unveil its refreshed European galleries on Saturday, and included among the works on display is this impish fellow, Etienne-Maurice Falconet’s “Menacing Cupid.” Perhaps “menacing” isn’t quite the right word. He’s more playful, but it’s a dangerous sort of play. Another version of this statue was made for Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV, and her embrace of it helped cement Falconet’s reputation as one of the premiere Rococo artists of France.

The Corcoran describes the work this way:

With a jocular and florid approach, Rococo art across all mediums often depicted scenes of nature, light-hearted entertainment, and amorous encounters. Indicatively titled, The Menacing Cupid invokes two themes central to the period—love and mischief. Though the god of love Cupid makes frequent appearances in the playfully erotic art of the 18th century, Falconet reimagines the popular figure with a slightly more dangerous edge. The downward-tilting chin causes Cupid’s eyes to peer impishly from beneath his brow. A finger held to his lips urges the viewer to conspiratorial silence, while the other hand ominously draws a bow from his quiver. A conglomeration of contrasts— the babyish figure, cloud-borne with roses at his feet, combined with his portentous stare and predatory reach for an arrow—The Menacing Cupid speaks to the attraction, yet threatening inescapability, of love.

The statue is one of dozens of works not previously on display now included in the newly painted European galleries, which have been reconfigured over the past few weeks and will be fully open beginning Saturday.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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