Sotheby’s Catalogue Note
At the close of the 1860s, Bouguereau’s reputation had been secured by his masterful portrayals of peasant life in the French countryside. Yet the artist did not limit himself in sources of inspiration and, like many of his contemporaries, became interested in the people and culture of North Africa and the Middle East. In 1870 the artist completed Jeune fille orientale and five years later L’Orientale à la grenade, which, along with select other works (perhaps as few as six), comprise a rare group of Orientalist subjects within the artist’s oeuvre.
While Bouguereau did not travel to the region, numerous sources, books, exhibitions, and private collections of costume and artifacts could have helped inform his sensitive depiction of a young girl holding a pomegranate. Bouguereau seems to have been particularly fascinated by Egypt, and the girl’s intricate silver jewelry is typical of North African design (similar pieces are worn by the fellahs in his compositions of 1876 and 1880). The gleaming red gems of her earrings complement the rich color of the pomegranate, its jewel-like seeds revealed by the girl’s peeling of the fruit.
Just as hands holding knitting or carrying a clay water pitcher are emblematic to Bouguereau’s rural narratives, the inclusion of an exotic pomegranate may also reveal the artist’s understanding of its long-standing symbolism of innocence (Thompson, p. 48). Though a departure in subject, L’Orientale à la grenade continues to demonstrate the artist’s brilliant ability to record intricate, nearly illusionistic details — from the blue stitching of her sleeve, small gaps suggesting its well-worn cloth, to the white backdrop of roughly applied paint to suggest a sun-baked plaster wall (which would appear behind the same model sitting in a village in the Marchande de grenades, also of 1875).
Quote from Sotheby’s website accessed online May 7, 2018
Click for enlarged image:
Image credit: William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For further information:
- For art lesson see Nadene’s Practical Pages: Wonderful Works of William-Adolphe Bouguereau