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A Commanding Presence: The Art of William Bouguereau

April 7th, 2014 | posted by Bill Rau
30-0186Bouguereau

This portrait beautifully demonstrates the master’s ability to capture nuances of personality and mood.

“For me a work of art must be an elevated interpretation of nature. The search for the ideal has been the purpose of my life. In landscape or seascape, I love above all the poetic motif.”  –William Bouguereau

The name William Bouguereau is synonymous with some of the greatest paintings in turn-of-the-century fine art. Known for his technical prowess and loyalty to the academic style of painting, it is hard to imagine that such an artistic giant was relegated to obscurity for over 70 years.

With a character of sincerity and modesty, Bouguereau became one of the most decorated artists of the 19th century. A student of the great Neoclassical artist Ingres, his painting technique boasts an unsurpassed degree of finish and luminous coloration, hallmarks of the French Academy. His handling of women and children is perhaps his greatest achievement. In this work, entitled Jeannie, Bouguereau imparts an expression of untampered purity upon his subject’s face, effectively reminding the viewer of the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Bouguereau enjoyed tremendous success during his lifetime. He received medals from the Salons and Universal Expositions, successive ranks, including Grand Master, of the prestigious Legion of Honor, and was the leading member of the Institute of France and President of the Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engrav

ers. His art never deviated from the basic principles of Academic training, and he so dominated the Salons of the Third Republic that the official Salon became known unofficially as Le Salon Bouguereau.

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This portrait of a beautiful young lady selling gilliflowers is a rare work painted during the few weeks the artist spent in Menton near the Italian border.

Bouguereau’s works were eagerly bought by fine art connoisseurs world-wide who considered him the most important French artist of the 19th century. By 1920, Bouguereau fell into obloquy, with his staunch rivals being the Modernist avant-garde, including the Impressionists. To this modern regime, the artist was a competent technician

needlessly holding on to tradition. Artists such as Monet and Degas coined the pejorative “Bougeuereaute,” a term used to describe any artistic style bound by idealism and academic restriction.

As a result, Bouguereau fell out of appreciation for a majority of the 20th century, and became a name only the most studied 19th-century art scholars might recognize. However, beginning in the early 1980s, museums began to “re-discover” this long underappreciated and forgotten artist. Today, Bouguereau’s paintings have once again come into their own, and his works are held by over an estimated 100 museums throughout the world, including the Louvre, and the Museé d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Rising triumphantly to reclaim his rightful place in the pages of art history, Bouguereau’s paintings are some of the most coveted in the world. And, on the rare occasion they come onto the market, the opportunity to acquire one of his breathtaking canvases isspectacular indeed.

View more masterpieces and learn more about William Bouguereau.

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