Aeons ago I wrote about the film Venus, and touched on the subject of the famous painting the Rokeby Venus (below). This painting has had a colourful history, which includes a role in one of the most important political developments of the 20th Century – votes for women.
On 10th March 1914, a feminist and suffragette, Mary Richardson, attacked the painting with a cleaver, leaving a number of deep slashes across the famous buttocks.
Fortunately, the painting was expertly restored by the National Gallery’s Chief Restorer, Helmut Ruhemann, and today little evidence of the attack is visible.
But why slash the Rokeby Venus’? And why her bottom? Surely any famous portrait or landscape would have served their political cause equally well.
Years later, Richardson admitted that the real reason was that she hated the way men looked at the painting. That was why she layed into that voluptuous bottom with such zeal. And what has that got to do with votes for women, I ask you?
We can now see her actions as, not so much those of a principled political activist, more a puritanical maiden aunt punishing the buttocks of her beautiful niece for giving it out to the local men folk. Yes, Mary Richardson was determined to give that brazen bottom-flashing young Venus a sound spanking.
After the dreadful deed, I can’t help but wonder if Helmut Ruhemann scoured London for a suitable bottom to act as a model for his restoration work. After all, finding a young girl with the buttocks of Venus would be quite a task, and would probably have required many hours of painstaking research.
Imagine that, after asking hundreds of women to turn round, raise their skirts, and show him their bottoms, eventually he finds a Cinderella-type, a humble servant girl, whose bottom is a superbly-proportioned match. (The picture shows an excellent example from the later 20th Century which I feel would have been suitable).
Then, his quest finally over, he persuades the girl to model for him on her day off.
But she doesn’t tell her prudish and strict mistress what she is up to. The senior housekeeper in whom she has confided, jealous of her prettiness, reveals all to the mistress.
On her return to her quarters, the mistress is waiting with an ultimatum – instant dismissal or a sound thrashing from the senior housekeeper for the unfortunate young maid with the buttocks of Venus. (Drawing by Louis Malteste).