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Danaë and the Shower of Gold

Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller1787

Nationalmuseum Sweden

Nationalmuseum Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

Danaë lies naked, reclining gently on a divan. Above her falls a shower of gold. This is Jupiter, who came to Danaë in the form of golden rain and made her pregnant. Cupid, god of love, directs the stream of gold down towards her womb. Cupid in fact has no real function or role in the myth of Danaë and the shower of gold. He is here merely to signal the mythological content of the picture.

The artist has transported the myth to his own time by using shapes and stylistic features that were popular then. The divan and its decoration, Danaë’s hairstyle and body shape and the warm, golden colours that dominate the painting are all expressions of the Neoclassicism that was the height of fashion in the late 18th century. It is said that Wertmüller toured with the painting, concealing it behind a curtain that, for a fee, he would draw aside as a kind of peepshow. The contemporary imagery no doubt helped to stoke the imagination of the viewers. If one ignores the figure of Cupid, it is easy to find parallels with contemporary depictions of naked, sexually provocative women in Danaë’s pose.

The story of Danaë is told in works such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and forms a common motif in art from the Renaissance onwards.

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  • Title: Danaë and the Shower of Gold
  • Creator: Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller
  • Date Created: 1787
  • Title in Swedish: Danaë och guldregnet
  • Signature: P.p. A: Wertmüller Sv. à Paris 1787.
  • Physical Dimensions: w1900 x h1500 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Wertmüller was born in Sweden, where he received his initial artistic training. He studied first under the sculptor Pierre Hubert L’Archevêque, but soon switched to painting as a pupil of the portrait painter Lorens Pasch the Younger. In 1772 Wertmüller moved to Paris, where he studied under Joseph Marie Vien and then later at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. However, his future path took on a more cosmopolitan tone. In 1775 he travelled to Rome, where Vien had become the director of the French Academy. He returned to Paris in 1780 and in the same year was appointed court painter to Sweden’s King Gustav III. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, he moved to Spain and in 1794 he sailed from there to America on a Swedish ship. Later in the 1790s he returned to Paris and Stockholm, before finally settling in the USA. In 1800, he became a US citizen, married Elisabet Henderson, whose family had Swedish roots, and purchased an estate in Delaware where he lived until his death in 1811. Schooled in Paris and Rome, Wertmüller was a confirmed Neoclassicist, drawing on its plasticity, clear lines and distinct colour palette in his own paintings. His historical paintings primarily depicted mythological subjects, often with a pronounced erotic tone. As a portraitist, he painted a large number of Swedes whom he had met on his travels in Europe and in Stockholm. However, he also received a wide range of international commissions, many from prominent clients – he painted a portrait of France’s Queen Marie-Antoinette walking with her two children in the gardens of Trianon in Versailles, for example. During his first visit to the USA, he was also commissioned to paint President George Washington.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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