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Leda and the Swan

1923
Marie Laurencin, French, 1883 - 1956

This painting draws on the mythological account of Zeus, supreme ruler of gods and mortals, who changed form into a swan in order to seduce Leda, queen of the Greek city-state of Sparta. In the 1920s, there was broad interest among modern artists working in France in revisiting Europe’s time-honored classical traditions as a corrective to the chaos of the First World War. Marie Laurencin participated in this trend by occasionally depicting female characters from Greek and Roman mythology. With Leda, she took up a female figure whom artists had tended to portray as either a passively or actively acquiescent protagonist in a highly erotic scenario. Laurencin chose to frame the scene as one of mutual tenderness. The queen caresses the swan’s feathered back, and the swan lowers its head, making an elegant curve with its neck.

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Object Details
With Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris (no. 758) [1]; with Galerie Druet, Paris [2]; Maurice J. Speiser (1880-1948), Philadelphia, by January 1934 [3]; Speiser sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, January 26 & 27, 1944, lot 93, (illus.); Charles C. G. Chaplin and Louise C. Chaplin, Haverford, PA, 1944 [4]; gift to PMA, 1978.1. See Marchesseau, Marie Laurencin, 1883-1956: catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Chino, Nagano-ken, Japan, 1986, no. 234.2. Information from Parke-Bernet sale catalogue.3. Exhibited at the PMA, "The Speiser Collection," January 13-February 14, 1934 (as "Figure Composition", 1923). On Speiser and his wife Martha see R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Henry McCarter, Cambridge, MA, 1944, p. 73.4. Information from curatorial file.

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