“One has to seek Beauty and Truth, Sir!”
These are the words of William-Adolphe Bouguereau in 1895. He continues,
As I always say to my pupils, you have to work to the finish. There’s only one kind of painting. It is the painting that presents the eye with perfection, the kind of beautiful and impeccable enamel you find in Veronese and Titian.”
Immediately, I want to know more about this man who has such a passion for beauty and truth. Who is he? Why? How? A brief biographical sketch will follow, as well as background information on “Girl With a.Pomegranate.”
Who Is William-Adolphe Bouguereau?
….it was he [Bouguereau] who single handedly opened the French academies to women, and it was he who was arguably the greatest painter of the human figure in all of art history… more importantly, he captured the tender and subtlest nuances of personality and mood. Bouguereau caught the very souls and spirits of his subjects much like Rembrandt .
L’Orientale à la grenade
The Sotheby’s Catalogue records the following:
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.
The Sotheby’s Catalogue continues,
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).
Meticulous Methods and Bad Blood
The lack of respect between (my beloved) French Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Bouguereau is well known. Grace Glueck wrote of those French avant-garde attitudes in The New York Times in 1985, but she also described Bouguereau’s methods:
[Bouguereau] learned superlatively well how to do a canvas in the grand manner, strictly observing the traditional academic standards for composition, drawing, color harmony and expression. And all his life, he was to use the time-honored Old Master procedures that led to a finished work: preliminary sketches, then oil studies, then highly finished drawings for all compositional figures including drapery and foliage renderings; next, detailed oil studies of heads and hands; then a large cartoon to be traced onto canvas, and then the painting itself. Whew! We’re light years away from the spontaneous pigmental ”accidents” of the Abstract Expressionists, who would undoubtedly give Bouguereau a touch of apoplexy.
These methods produced L’Orientale à la grenade. Let us observe in detail:
Click for enlarged image:
“Rembrandt is said to have captured the soul of age.
Bouguereau captured the soul of youth.”
Fred Ross at Art Renewal Center
As the quintessential salon painter of his generation, Bouguereau was reviled by the Impressionist avant-garde. By the early twentieth century, Bouguereau and his art fell out of favor with the public, due in part to changing tastes. In the 1980s, a revival of interest in figure painting led to a rediscovery of Bouguereau and his work.
Near the end of his life in 1905, Bouguereau described his love of his art,
“Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness, I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come; if I cannot give myself to my dear painting, I am miserable”.
He found Truth and Beauty in art, too.
Thanks for Reading 🙂
Wikiquote contributors, “William-Adolphe Bouguereau,” Wikiquote, , https://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=William-Adolphe_Bouguereau&oldid=2385713 (accessed September 24, 2018).
Bouguereau (1895); Attributed in: Jefferson C. Harrison (1986) French paintings from the Chrysler Museum. Chrysler Museum, North Carolina Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.). p.45.
Sotheby’s, Girl with a pomegranate, by William Bouguereau, (1875). Catalogue note, http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2012/19th-century-paintings-n08847/lot.27.html (accessed 23 Sept 2018).
Art Renewal Center, William Bouguereau Biography by Damien Bartoli with Fred Ross, https://www.artrenewal.org/Article/Title/biography-of-william-bouguereau#2, (accessed September 24, 2018).
Grace Glueck, The New York Times, Art View: To Bouguereau, Art Was Strickly ‘The Beautiful‘, Jan. 6, 1985, https://www.nytimes.com/1985/01/06/arts/art-view-to-bouguereau-art-was-strickly-the-beautiful.html (accessed 24 Sept 2018). hmmm……Strictly???
Wikipedia contributors, “William-Adolphe Bouguereau,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William-Adolphe_Bouguereau&oldid=858598198 (accessed September 24, 2018).
William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For further information
- For home educators: art lesson and notebooking pages at Nadene’s Practical Pages: Wonderful Works of William-Adolphe Bouguereau