National Gallery of Victoria: La Cigale by Jules Joseph Lefebvre

I want to share one of my favourite paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

La Cigale (1972) by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, oil on canvas.

This is a beautiful painting from the French artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre that refer to Aesop’s fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant”. Apparently this was a critique against Napoleon III whose poor leadership led France to economic collapse.

If I remember well this painting was exhibited in a very crowded hall that imitated the ambiance of the Paris Salon, where artists used to show their works to the critics. Although there were many beautiful pieces surrounding this painting, this stood out. I thought it was interesting how this painting didn’t try to hide the sexual organs of the women with a piece of cloth, a flower or a similar object, but instead any details on this part of her body were completely removed.

I always love to find some contradictions in the paintings and I think I saw a few in here. First, although this is a frontal nude, it is interesting how the cloth, the hair and the arms cover the woman a bit making her look sensual yet not aggressively sexual. Although she is naked the focal point of the painting are THOSE eyes, so expressive yet mysterious, she seems to be staring directly at the viewer, yet she seems to be thinking about something else… some have suggested that as in Aesop’s fable, she is regretting being unprepared in harsh times. Those intense eyes and dark hair also offer a powerful contrast with the soft unblemished skin and the soft tones of the background. What do you think? Can you find any other contrasts in this beautiful painting?