Created by the French artist Paul-Jacques-Aime Baudry in 1861, The Wave and the Pearl is also known as The Pearl and the Wave. The sensual painting features an attractive, as well as a nude young woman lying on the edge of a rocky sea shore, with her head turned to gaze backward over her shoulder towards the viewer, while the waves are breaking in the background. The presence of the sea and the shells on the shore may refer to the birth of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty and sexual desire.
Described by Kenyon Cox, the American artist and an important instructor at the Art Students League of New York, as the most perfect painting of the nude in the 19th century, it was one of the most interesting contemporary topics of insatiable ardent curiosity about the identification of the model. While it was met with praise from art critics for its technique and distinguishing quality, Cox believed thatsome of the graceful attitudes featuring the painting, which include the well-rounded but slim body of the young woman in the painting, the visible dimple in her shoulder, the loveliness of the colour, the solid yet mysterious modeling and the perfection of the delicate surface, made it a pure masterpiece.
However, it is also pointed out by Bailey Van Hook, an historian of the 19th and 20th century European and American art, that the Wave and the Pearl is one of the numerous examples of nude paintings where the subject woman was shown lying down sluggishly on the shore for the satisfaction of the Voyeuristic viewers and lacks moral modesty.
In 1863, the Wave and the Pearl was first presented at the Salon, the official art exhibition of the French Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, where it earned lots of praise. Later, it was bought by Eugenie de Montijo, the last empress of France, for 20,000 Francs, her second most costly purchase of the paintings of that time. Today, the intensely arousing female nude in the Wave and the Pearl is housed in the Prado museum, officially known as Museo Nacional del Prado, the main Spanish art museum, located in Madrid.