The sketch of Venus and Cupid appears to be a preliminary idea for Cupid stung by a bee, a theme to which West returned many times throughout his career. The drawing does not relate to any of the known finished paintings on this theme, but its fluidity and confidence suggests a date in the 1780s or 1790s.
The study of the Venus de' Medici, by contrast, probably dates from earlier in West's career and perhaps even from his visit to Italy prior to arriving in England. He arrived in Italy in July 1760 and remained there until 1763, visiting Florence at least three times during his stay. The Venus was a highlight of the Uffizi's collection; on display in the gallery's tribuna from 1677, it was a key sight of the Grand Tour. For a young artist seeking to improve his style, it was a valuable object of study: like the Apollo Belvedere, which West had seen in Rome (see lot 30), it represented ideal Classical beauty.