A preparatory study for the figure of Hercules in the Hercule et Omphale in the Louvre, painted in 1724, for Le Moyne's patron Franois Berger, J.L. Bordeaux, Franois Le Moyne and his Generation, Paris, 1981, p. 47, fig. 43. The picture enjoyed an immediate success and became, through the engraving by Laurent Cars, one of the most popular images of the 18th century. Presented at the Salon of 1725, it was acclaimed and celebrated in verse by a poet called Moraine.
This recently discovered drawing is one of only three preparatory studies known for the composition. The other two are studies for Omphale, one of her head in the University Art Museum, Berkeley, and another of her torso at the British Museum, J.L. Bordeaux, op. cit., Paris, 1981, nos. D65 and D66, figs. 193-4.
Le Moyne travelled late in his career to Italy. He was unfortunate enough to have won the Prix de Rome in 1711 when the state coffers were insufficient to allow the winner to be sent to Rome. Le Moyne was already an academician when he arrived in Rome and was received as such at the Acadmie by its director Charles-Franois Poerson. The Hercule et Omphale was shown to the Cardinal de Rohan and the Cardinal de Polignac, who liked it so much that they commissioned a replica.
In Italy Le Moyne painted two of his most sensuous pictures, Hercule et Omphale and La Baigneuse. Their appearance was a turning point in the development of History Painting in the 18th Century.
Le Moyne had been brought up in the tradition of Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) and trained by Louis Galloche (1670-1761), both impeccable technicians. Yet times were changing, and a new age was dawning. The glory of the Sun King had been tarnished by too long a reign, and a child whom the country adored became king. The stultified ethos of the academy was at odds with the spirit of the fte galante. It was up to Le Moyne to find a compromise between the two. When Le Moyne discovered the light and bright colors in Veronese's pictures, he sensed that he could unlock the long-standing quarrel between the Poussinistes and Rubnistes: between the defenders of draughtsmanship and the exponents of free inspiration of color. Le Moyne, himself an accomplished draughtsman, was safe from the attacks of the most traditional supporters of the Le Brun school, so he was able more easily to combine his interest in form with the expression of sensuous lines and subtle light.
In working out his compositions, Le Moyne never departed from the academic rules. Each figure was painstakingly studied on paper. The study of Hercules is a testimony of his admiration for Parmigianino and Veronese. In the torso of Omphale, cited earlier, one sees sensuousness of line and, in the study of Hercules, the slight di sotto in su effect, combined with the brilliant foreshortening of a frontal pose of Hercules, recalls the impressive impact of the great mural decorations of Veronese. Le Moyne uses chalk to emphasize the play of light over the body as in the shadow of Omphale over Hercule's face and shoulders. The hand holding a staff stands out heightened in white in a blaze of evidence to Hercules' state of submission to Omphale. In contrast to Le Brun, Le Moyne displays a muscular figure, but softened by the grace of his pose and the subtle shadows over his body. Le Moyne finds a way through Venetian art to transform Le Brun's acadmies into an expression of elegance and sensuousness, so wholly characteristic of the 18th century.