This set of four unpublished mythological decorations represents a major new addition to the oeuvre of Jean-François de Troy. They were almost certainly made for François-Christophe de La Live, Receveur Général des Finances de la Généralité de Poitiers, who in the mid-1720s commissioned from de Troy thirty-five large decorative paintings for his immense house on the rue de Luxembourg. Several contemporary sources cite the vast commission, which consisted of large overdoors inserted into boiserie paneling, 'representing the four corners of the world; the four Elements; the five Senses; the four Seasons; the Arts and Sciences, and various other subjects. These paintings were done in one go in the years 1726, 1727, 1728 and 1729' ('Etrait de la vie de M. de Troy, peintre du roi et directeur de son Academie a Rome', in the Memoires inedits, Paris, 1854, vol. II, p. 275; see C. Leribault, Jean-François de Troy 1679-1752, Paris, 2002, p. 292).
De Troy's most thorough recent biographer, Christophe Leribault, has only succeeded in identifying two paintings made for La Live, an Old Woman Eating by the Hearth in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille (Leribault, op. cit., cat. no. P.137) and The Drinker ('Le Buveur'; cat. no. P.138), a painting that is currently on the art market with Colnaghi, London. While Leribault associates the old woman warming her hands at the fire as likely representing Winter in the series of Four Seasons, he acknowledges that Le Buveur could represent either Autumn in the same series, or Taste in the series of Five Senses. Likewise, the present lots with their Ovidian subject matter could as easily comprise the Four Seasons as the Four Elements in the vague iconographic program that De Troy created for La Live's rooms. It is worth noting, however, that both the Lille and Colnaghi canvases are painted at the same moment, with similar handling, and are of identical dimensions (approximately 1.30 x 1.14 meters) to the present four lots.
Io, princess of Argos, was one of Jupiter's many loves; however, the affair was frustrated by Juno, the god's wife, who turned Io into a white heifer and handed her off to the hundred-eyed giant, Argus, to guard. Mercury is sent by Jupiter to kill Argus, which he does after lulling him to sleep with music (Metamorphoses I: 668-721). In De Troy's painting, Argus nods off as Mercury plays his pipes, while the white cow, Io, looks on attentively.