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Bouguereau Adolphe William  1825 - 1905

   Italian version

Cupidon, 1875, Bridgeman Art Library, London. Child at Bath, 1886, oil on canvas, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington. Charity, 1878, oil on canvas, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton. The Bohemian, 1890, oil on canvas, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Art & Literature, 1867, oil on canvas, Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY. The Annunciation, 1888, oil on canvas. The Abduction of Psyche, 1895, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Girl, 1895, oil on canvas, The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Fraternal Love, 1851, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Dance, 1856, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


Spring, 1858, oil on canvas, private collection. A Soul Brought to Heaven, 1878, oil on canvas, Musée du Périgord. Song of the Angels, 1881, oil on canvas, Museum at Forest-Lawn Memorial-Park, Glendale. Rest at Harvest, 1865, oil on cavnas, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa. Femme Au Coquillage, 1885



Self-Portrait, 1879, oil on canvas, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Adolphe William Bouguereau: training in Paris took place in the government sponsored art school, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where the students were taught how to draw. At that time the craft of putting paint on canvas was taught elsewhere, that is, in the private studios of the school's professors. Rigorous hurdles, in the form of competitions of increasing difficulty, were placed before the students, the highest hurdle being the Prix de Rome. Only ten students each year competed for this coveted prize. The winner was sent to Rome, to stay for four years at the Villa Medici, the seat of the French Academy in Rome, to study classical art and the Italian Renaissance masters. This art training system, then, was oriented to the past, for it was predicated on the notion that no artist since the Renaissance had ever achieved the level of perfection reached by Raphael and Michelangelo. It was the duty, obligation, and responsibility of contemporary artists to embody in the present Just as the training was regulated, so were the forms in which this tradition took shape. Paintings, for example, were ranked by their subject matter. History paintings, stories of noble or tragic acts drawn from history and myth, were accorded first rank. Then came portraits, worthy as likenesses of important personages, then landscapes, and at the bottom, still lifes. The latter two, according to academic theory, were only copies of what the artist could see, and could not carry a message of virtue or morality. Only history painting, with its emphasis on the human body, could properly reflect the training of the government schools and, with judicious choice of subject, glorify the state. Thus, the highest prize, the Prix de Rome, was given to the best history painting; the other genres, with the exception of a new category, historical landscape painting inaugurated in 1817 did not even have a prize. The main event in the arts calendar of Paris was the Salon, a huge annual exhibition of contemporary art. As important as the government was in commissioning works of art, there was in fact a limit to the number of churches and governmental buildings needing new decorations and the number of official portraits required. In previous centuries the state, the church, and the aristocracy (an extension of the state) were, broadly speaking, the only institutions powerful and wealthy enough to commission works of art, and therefore to influence what forms art would take. In the nineteenth century, as these institutions began to lose power, they were overshadowed by the growing middle class, who wanted to hang fine art in their homes. Before dealers became established as buyers and sellers of art, which happened around mid-century, the Salon functioned as the supreme marketplace, where consumers could see, in one place, what artists were capable of producing. Success at the Salon, which was dependent on such factors as an advantageous placement of works and favorable reviews in the press, could guarantee for an artist a viable career.

Bouguereau's early artistic life began somewhat inauspiciously. Although he was accepted at the Ecole des Beaux Arts after only two months in Picot's studio, it was as the ninety-ninth of one hundred pupils accepted. He was chosen as a contestant for the Prix de Rome in 1848 (third of ten contestants), in 1849 (seventh of ten), and again in 1850, when he was the last of the ten competitors chosen. The Prix de Rome he was awarded in 1850, for his Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes, was in fact a kind of second prize, as Paul Baudry (1828-1886) had won more votes. Bouguereau was accorded a trip to Rome in part because there was a vacancy at the Villa Medici; no prize had been awarded in 1848 because of the revolutionary turmoil in France that year.

Living in Italy, for Bouguereau, was a luxury; the prize was four thousand francs, in addition to the six hundred he was given by the Municipal Council of La Rochelle on his entry into the art school in Paris. While there he applied himself to such rigorous study that he earned the nickname of "Sisyphus." In addition to absorbing the lessons to be learned in Rome from antiquity and the work of Renaissance artists, he traveled throughout Italy to copy the masterpieces found in Orvieto, Assisi, Siena, Florence, Pisa, Ravenna, Venice, Parma, Naples, Pompeii, Capri, Bologna, Milan, and Verona. He also visited the hill towns and lakes around Rome Terni, Narni, Civita Castellana, Albano and Nemi, Castel Gandolfosites that had inspired landscapists since the seventeenth century. The things he saw during his sojourn in Italy would inform his art for the rest of his life.

Upon his return to Paris in early 1854 Bouguereau was awarded valuable commissions in two areas, portraiture and decorative cycles. These opportunities for work came from both Paris and his hometown of La Rochelle. Bouguereau continued to exhibit paintings (some of which had been painted in Rome) at the Salon, where they were received by the public with great favor. Because of his training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and that institution's emphasis on paintings with themes drawn from mythological, classical, and biblical history, the subjects of Bouguereau's early Salon submissions were mostly somber and serious. Titles such as Combat of the Lapiths and Centaurs (1852; private collection) and Le triomphe du martyre: Le corps de Sainte Cecile apporte dans les catacombes (The Triumph of the Martyr: The Body of Saint Cecilia Being Carried into the Catacombs) (1854) indicate that the young artist aspired to take his place in the tradition of grand history painting.
These pictures were not the kind, however, that had wide commercial appeal. His art began to move away from grandiose compositions to more genre-like scenes with fewer figures. Mothers and children, shepherdesses, and children playing were some of the themes that would find a place on the walls of middle class homes. Bouguereau was a canny businessman. In addition to exploiting the great marketplace of the Salon, he allied himself with dealers who could show his work to advantage and procure for him good prices. Toward the late 1850s his work was beginning to be handled by the dealer Paul Durand Ruel (1828-1922); after October 1866, Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893) was Bouguereau's exclusive dealer. Beginning in the 1860s Bouguereau's paintings were particularly popular in England and America, where the taste for scenes of domestic sentimentality ran high.


Throughout the course of his career, Bouguereau was in the habit of spending the summers in La Rochelle, painting in a studio he had constructed there. After several years of heart disease, he died in La Rochelle on August 19, 1905. It is thought that his condition was exacerbated by the burglary of his house and studio in Paris that spring, one of a string of robberies in the neighborhood. He is buried in the cemetery of Montparnasse, near the neighborhood where he had lived.

- From "Bouguereau", by Fronia E. Wissman


Rest, 1879, oil on canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art. The Thanks Offering, 1867, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Nymphs & Satyr, 1873, oil on canvas, Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. Innocence, 1890, oil on canvas. The Shell, 1871, oil on canvas. The Secret, 1876, oil on canvas, New York Historical Society. All Saints' Day (Le jour des morts), 1859, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux. Return from the Harvest, 1878, oil on canvas, Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville. The bather, 1879

Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros, 1880, oil on canvas, University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Work Interrupted, 1891, oil on canvas, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College. The Virgin with Angels, 1900, oil on canvas, Musée du Petit Palais at Paris. The Birth of Venus, 1879, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay at Paris. Two Girls (Childhood Idyll), 1900, oil on Canvas, Denver Art Museum. Temptation, 1880, oil on canvas, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Little Marauder, 1900.


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