This version of Leda and the Swan is a work by Jean-Jacques Feuchère, known as Jean Feuchère, an important sculptor of the Romantic Bohemia, an edition of which is now kept by the Metropolitan Museum in New-York.
Leda, Queen of Sparta in Greek mythology, is one of the many conquests of Zeus, who used to take the form of clouds or a golden rain, of an eagle, a bull, or like here the form of a swan, to seduce them. Metamorphosed in this way, the Lord of the Gods gives two children to Leda (born from an egg), Helen, the most beautiful woman in the Greek world, and Pollux.
The episode of Leda and Zeus's romance nourished a great deal of artistic interpretations since the Antiquity. It is indeed an important part for the mythological pantheon, with a strong erotic force.
The career of Jean Feuchère, taken by an illness at the height of his fame in 1852, was short and swift. As soon as 1834, he shows a statue of Satan at the Salon, that remains today his most known work. Immersed in the vogue of dark romanticism, passionate by mythical mysteries and by the Medieval or Renaissance past, Feuchère is close to the Bohemian society, gathered at the "Club des Haschischins" where he used to meet Theophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire.
Among his most famous successes, James of Rothschild acquired his marble statue The Renaissance and the Arts, and he designed the sculpted groups adorning the Duc de Luyne's center piece. He was also commissioned to decorated several Parisian monuments, such as the Triumph Arch at Place de l'Etoile, the church of the Madeleine, or the Cuvier fountain.
Feuchère was however first of all a great admirer of the artists from the Renaissance, in particular Jean Goujon, of whom he claimed to be the reincarnation, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, of whom he made statues. Following the steps of his masters, he used to collect antique medals, and was eager to make numerous statuettes for the art bronze foundries, such as this group of "Leda and the Swan".
Hence, this work shows his interest for that of Michelangelo, in a painting Francis I owned at the Chateau of Fontainebleau. Michelangelo's painting, nowadays lost, was very well known by the artists through the circulation of engravings, like that of Etienne Delaune, preserved in the Louvre Museum. In this work Leda in shown naked and crowned, her legs around the swan. The eroticism is not concealed, Michelangelo described precisely the embrace of the two bodies, feather against skin.
This famous version from the 16th century defined a large tendency among the artists of the following centuries, who mostly describe the very moment of the embrace. Feuchère makes here a singular version, accentuating the passionate expression of Leda, and adopting an oval composition, in the shape of an egg.
The tight composition of the statuette is utterly unique among the representations of Leda and the Swan. The intimacy is this way accentuated, and the artist stresses the divine ecstasy lived by the mortal in this union. Unlike his predecessors, Feuchère describes Leda grasping Zeus with her whole body, arms and legs, her body bent against the swan. The sensuality released by the work emphasized passion, a moment taken from life. The swan bends over Leda, a leg on her stomach, rubbing his long neck against hers. The oval of the composition contributes as well to see a moment caught in a "bubble", in the divine mystery.
Feuchère's choice is hence for example the opposite of Carrier-Belleuse's, who will reuse Michelangelo's crown, and Leda's relaxed and stretched out posture, transforming the erotic scene into a tender moment.