On 24 June 1770 the royal mistress, the comtesse du Barry, purchased for 1200 livres from the painter François-Hubert Drouais four overdoors by Fragonard to decorate the old château of Louveciennes that the king had given her a year earlier. Baron Pichon (1856) specifies that one represented 'the Graces; another, Cupid setting the Universe ablaze; another, Venus and Cupid; and another, Night'. The countess also paid 420 livres to 'have three of the above-mentioned overdoors applied to another canvas, to have them enlarged, repainted, and to have the additions matched' (P. Rosenberg, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Fragonard, 1987, under no. 153; see also p. 299). Eventually, according to one 18th-century source, they were moved into the new pavillion at Louveciennes designed by Ledoux.
These four paintings are today recognized as The Three Graces in the Musée Fragonard in Grasse; Cupid setting the Universe ablaze in the Musée de Toulon; Night in the collection of Edmond de Rothschild, Pregny; and Venus and Cupid in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. All of them have been altered, with obvious canvas additions of differing sizes, but all of them share a similar pale and silvery palette.
Although the paintings might be seen as representing the Hours of the Day, there are iconographic incongruities, and as Rosenberg noted, 'these four works do not seem to have been intended to form a coherent iconographic program... but, rather, to have been associated arbitrarily, enlarged, and repainted... to satisfy the countess's request as quickly as possible' (P. Rosenberg, 1987, op. cit.,
p. 328). It may be the case that Fragonard hunted about for allegorical overdoors that he had already painted which he could, with small alterations, match together to give the appearance of decorative - if not iconographic - coherence. Although it has been suggested that the panels might even date from as early as the mid-1750s - the influence of Boucher, Fragonard's teacher, is still so pronounced in them - close examination suggests that a later dating is more probable. As there is some disparity in the styles of the paintings, it is likely that they were executed over an extended period; nevertheless, all of them were probably painted within a few years of being acquired by Madame du Barry.
The present painting is an autograph replica of the Venus and Cupid, today in Dublin. The painting has almost certainly been trimmed slightly on the top and bottom, and perhaps on the sides; however, comparison with the Dublin version does not suggest that it was substantially reduced. If one discounts the large canvas addition (visible to the naked eye) at the top of the Dublin painting, the compositions of the two versions are almost identical. While remembering that all of these overdoors have been altered, it appears that the present Venus Crowning Love was only cut as much as was necessary to regularize its format.
The Three Graces in Grasse also exists in an autograph replica (with slight variations) in a private collection in Paris (see P. Rosenberg, 1987, op. cit., p. 327, fig. 1). That painting, which is smaller (62.5 x 138 cm.) than Venus Crowning Love (but shows signs of having been more severely truncated), shares with the present canvas a ruddier and more saturated palatte than is found in the silvery Louveciennes paintings, and it is possible that they are two survivors from a full set of replicas made after the Louvciennes suite. Fragonard did not hesitate to take up compositions again, and the bolder style and stronger palette found in these two replicas has prompted at least one authority (see Cuzin, op. cit.) to date them several years after the Louveciennes overdoors, to sometime in the early 1770s.