1714 Paris - 1789
Paper mounted on canvas
42,8 x 41,5 cm


This painting shows the abduction of Europe, an episode of the Metamorphoses by Ovide (Second book, vers 847 to 867). There are several variations of the theme painted by Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre around 1750. Elected Professor of the Academie in 1748, he advanced in his academic career very fast. He profitet from the reputation of being the first painter of the Duc d’Orléans and received the prestigious assignment for the domes of the Church Saint Roch in 1752.

In the course of these years, he increased the production of  graceful mythological themes and became a serious rival for Boucher and Carl Vanloo. Claude Henri Watelet ordered from Pierre an „Abduction of Europe“(fig.1) to complete the Salon in which another  „Abduction of Europe“ and „Mercure confiant l’enfant Bacchus aux Nymphes de Nysa“, painted by Boucher were shown.  Pierre choose to follow the narration of Ovid by representing the following episode: It shows Europe abducted by Zeus to the sea, whereas by Boucher Europe and her followers are still on the beach. The picture of Pierre is exhibited very often from 1750 to 1786, the date of the sale of the collection Watelet. The two pictures of Boucher and the picture of Pierre were sold in one lot, because after Pailler, „ il semble nécessaire de ne point désunir ces trois ouvrages capitaux et si parfaitment d’accord dans tous les points du bel art de la peinture.“1

Some years later, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre takes up again the subject: from 1756 on, the king commissioned a series of tapisseries for the „Amour des Dieuxthought as a present  for his Majordomus, the maquis de Marigny. Joseph Marie Vien is commissioned for an „Abduction of  Proserpina“ (carton in the Musée de Grenoble), Carl Vanloo for „Neptune and Amymoné“ (carton au Musée Chéret de Nice) and Francois Boucher for „Forges de Vulcain“ (carton au Musée du Louvre).

Pierres’ carton shows „The Abduction of Europe“, and was originally at the Musée d’Arras, but was unfortunately destroyed in the first world war. There is a photograph in black and white, which shows the composition of the carton.  (fig.2) 

There is a copy in sanguine of the carton (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and a smaller picture, today lost, which was also part of the collection of Marquis de Marigny. Two other  copies by Pierre, which present some variations to the definite carton, reappeared on the french market in 2002 (fig. 3) and in 2008 (fig.4).

In 1759 the carton was manufactured at the Gobelins Manufactory and the cycle was exhibited at the Hotel de Ménars.

Nicolas Lesur mentions in his book on Pierre the existence of such a sketch for the carton of the tapisserie of 17572. One can find the traces of the work in the sale of the collection Chastre de Billy. The lot 52 is described as follows: „Deux tableaux pendants; ils représentent l’un L’Enlévement d’Europe et l’autre Vénus à sa toilette; (...), ils sont peints librement et paraissent avoir servi d’etudes pour les mêmes compositions qui ont éte´traitées en grand par  cet artiste. Haut. 15 pouces, Larg. 15 pouces et demie.“ 

This works came later in the collection Marquis Véri3, then from 1785, in the collection of Claude-Francois Paillard, named Duval4. This lost sketch, of which the dimensions (15 pouces sur 15 pouces and a half, is about 42 x 43,4 cm) is about equivalent to our picture, and is most likely our sketch.

At first sight, our composition seems to be closer to the picture painted for Watelet in 1750. However, just like in the picture of 1750, Europa has been abducted to the sea by Zeus. Her position and the Taurus are mirror - inverted. But the small putti and the eagle are floating over the scene. Even the sea monsters can be found at the right side of the composition.

One can have the hypothesis that our picture is a sketch for the carton of 1757, because it is possible that at first thought, Pierre had his composition of 1750 in mind. Pierre chose to represent in the carton, the seduction of Europe by Jupiter metamorphosed in an white Taurus. 

A young girl collects flowers with her companions on the beach of Tyr, where her eye catches the sight of a white Taurus. She climbs on his back and is abducted by him.

Furthermore, one can find certain details similar to the carton: The ensemble of the carton is mirror – inverted in comparison to our sketch, but one can find the eagle and the putty flying above the groupe of Europe and as well as the cliff at the background of the scene. In the version of 1750, Europa wears a magnificent dress, whereas in our sketch, like in the carton of 1757, the young girl is more casually  dressed.

Our sketch has to be seen as the missing link between the two major works of Pierre, the picture for Watelet in 1750 and the carton for the Gobelin. In our sketch the artist cultivates a far more simple elegance than a painter like Boucher. The decorative ambition of that painting derives from a restrained sensibility and offers an alluring insight in the art of Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre. 


1 Alexandre Joesph Paillet, catalogue de la vente Watelet Paris, 12 juin 1786, no 14.
2 Nicolas Lesur, 2009, P. 194, p. 284.
3 Catalogue de la vente du Marquis de Veri, Paris, 12 décembre 1985, n°12 (avec le même descriptif)
4 Catalogue de la vente de Claude-François Paillard, Paris, 10 mai 1810, n°80.



Private Collection, France


Nicolas Lesur, Olivier Aaron: „Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre 1714-1789; premierpeintre du roi“ Paris, 2009, P. 194, p.284.

Fig. 1 Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, l’Enlèvement d’Europe, 1750, huile sur toile, 240,4 x 274,4 cm, Dallas, Museum of Art. Lesur, 2009, P. 125, p. 261-262.

Fig. 3 Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre, l’Enlèvement d’Europe, vers 1757, huile sur toile, 49 x 58,5 cm, Vente Sotheby’s, Paris, 27 juin 2002, lot 28.