Monday, November 30, 2009

The Beauty of Bouguereau

Magnet # 105: William-Adolphe Bouguereau's Le repos

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born on this day in 1825 in France. From an early age, his family intended for him to join their business of producing wines and, later, olive oil, but this was never realized. Encouraged by his uncle, a curate, Bouguereau attended high school and discovered his artistic ability. He painted portraits of his parishioners and labels for bottles of preserves. He went onto Paris to study at some of its most prestigious art schools, where he earned accolades with his paintings depicting historical and classical subjects. His ascent to becoming one of the most popular artists of his day was almost completely unhindered.  He won many of the great art awards given in his day and was a president of prestigious art societies.  During his life, he was perhaps the most famous French painter.

Bouguereau's artistic preferences of painting highly realistic, idealized figures, often women, and his talent in doing so made him a darling at the Paris Salon all of his life, as well as a favorite of wealthy art collectors, but it also put him at odds with a new group of avant garde painters that was emerging in France at that time - the Impressionists. He did not care for the unfinished, unpolished nature of their art and they accused him of blindly following outdated artistic traditions.  Some even called his work too perfect.  Degas and his circle even had a term for artwork that they deemed to be too slick and overly done - Bouguereaute.  But Bouguereau had far worse to deal with in his life - over the course of his life, he lost both his wife and four of his children.  In fact, only one of his children outlived him.  But through it all, he painted constantly, claiming it was the only time he was truly happy and that when he stopped each night, he could barely wait to continue the next day.

One of Bouguereau's lesser-known accomplishments was helping to open the French art academies to female artists. Because of his acceptance toward them, he was able to meet the student that would become his second wife later in life - American artist Elizabeth Gardner. She was a talented painter and some of the work she left behind often closely resembles that of her husband's. The pair were forced to have a lengthy engagement, however, because his mother and his daughter opposed the union. After his mother's death in 1896, the pair were able to enjoy a happy, although somewhat short, marriage. In 1905, Bouguereau passed away from heart disease. He left over 700 completed paintings behind. Unfortunately, by the 1920's, these became pretty unpopular. For a time, the art world spurned him as best they could, exalting the Impressionists he opposed, and omitting his name and works from encyclopedias. But, nowadays, his work is experiencing a resurgence. Major showings of his art in the 1980's spurred an interest in his work that the Internet has managed to grow on websites like  Illustrators like Larry Elmore are highly influenced by his work, which now hangs in over one hundred museums around the world. I even noticed a Bouguereau image featured in an advertisement for the in New Orleans Museum of Art in a AAA Tour Book. They only had enough room for two images - I guess Bouguereau brings in visitors. Thank goodness the prejudice shown to Bouguereau by the art world seems to be coming to an end - he produced some of the most beautiful works of any artist, and he has earned a reputation both as one of the finest artists in history and as one of the greatest France has ever produced.


  1. My favorite artist :) Forgot his birthdate. Thanks for an image reminding me why I wanted to be an artist in the first place!

  2. It makes me so happy to know there are others who love his work as much as I do.