Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bouguereau 2

Well here it is! This is the one that everybody talks about. If you click on this you should get a nice big image of it. This is the Nymphs and Satyr from the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. This enormous painting leaves viewers awestruck. Many times I have heard stories of people having no idea who Bouguereau was, enter the room where this is hung and stand and stare in amazement for a half hour before they are able to walk away. This is one of the most powerful paintings in America.

Breton brother and sister, from 1871 is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In the mid eighteen fifties, back in Paris, Bouguereau becomes a successful artist in the Paris Salon. He marries and has five children. He moves from painting the historical and religious paintings to the genre scenes of peasants and beautiful young women. As successful as his public life is, his private life bears the sorrow of the death of several children and then his wife. Some of the sentimentality of his art and the era, came from the mortality of the young and seemingly healthy. Before antibiotics, death was a common visitor in the nursery. Late in life he married Elizabeth Gardner from Essex, New Hampshire.

image; artrenewal.org

The Broken Pitcher is at the Fine Arts Museum in San Fransisco. This is a great example of his work and I think better than the one in the Met. The broken pitcher suggests her lost virginity, hence her pensive look. Like a naughty Pomeranian it must have slipped its leash! Watch out for that spigot!

This broken pitcher bit was a theme in French painting before Bouguereau, but he used it repeatedly. The story line is a throwaway, the reason for this painting is its beautiful glowing light and flawless worksmanship.


Admiration 1897,

These little pictures don't make the viewer aware of the perfection of the drawing in these figures or of the glow they have in real life. They are not photorealistic and in fact Bouguereau did all of these without using photography. They are all built up, from thumbnails, to sketches, to color studies and figure drawings to cartoons, and then painted over drawings inked onto the canvas. Bouguereau was such a hard worker his friends called him Sisyphus, after the character in Greek mythology who was condemned to forever roll an enormous boulder up a hill. He made over 600 of these paintings, and the figures are all life sized or nearly life sized.

More tomorrow. Maybe its time to draw some lines on a Bouguereau.


Mike Thompson said...

Stape, Last year I was banging on the door of the Clark at 10:00 AM on a Wednesday. Let me in! Let me in! I'm surprised they didn't send a guards to subdue me. When I got to Nymphs and Satyr, I had it all to myself for 10 minutes and I just sat there, all bug eyed and open mouthed.

But seriously, this painting is unbelievable on two levels. Firstly, it is a fantastic work of art and so good it doesn't look real at first. And secondly, if THOSE FOUR NYMPHS were dragging you off for a little dip in the pool, would you be resisting?

Unknown said...


I've seen the Broken Pitcher at the Legion many times. It is lit horribly. The angle of the spot lights creates a glare that really bothersome.

The large painting of the procession with bacchus on a donkey is a real show stopper for me.

The best B out here on the west coast is at the Stockton Museum..it is GiNormous....

jeff said...

Bouguereau paints flesh like no other. Even Rembrandt did not get the the transparent quality of flesh that Bouguereau achieved.

Is he on the same level as Rembrandt or Titian, I think he's pretty close the very reason I stated above. Also look at those landscapes he puts the figures in. His landscape paintings alone rank him one of the best landscape painters.

I can see how some might be turned off by the subject matter, it's not as sublime as Rembrandt but who cares, he's gets pretty close and that's what counts.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I have stood in front of that thing and been dumbfounded. There is another in the room that is not as good. Incidentally that wonderful Homer,the Bridle path is in the next room, or nearby anyway...Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...


The donkey is coming, I have a number more I will show.Whats the B out in Stocktom?

jeff said...

Titian was the great, great, great, great, grand daddy of oil painting. Before him painting was more like filled in drawings or closer to tempera painting in technique.

I don't think it's fair to compare anyone to Titian, Tintoretto or Veronese. Rembrandt's genus is he took off from Titian and went farther. Rubens, Van Dyke, Hals and Velasquez as well, so I think comparing these giants to anyone is not fair as it's pretty hard to top these geniuses.

Bouguereau is still a top notch painter compared to anyone after the Baroque period, anyone.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I regret having made you sorry.I hope you will continue to follow
along though.

Rubens is MY favorite artist. No artist since the Baroque has had that highest sort of refinement and exalted greatness of that era. And really if we wanted to be rarified we could say that no one was the equal of Raphael.
So in a sense I agree. I could construct an argument that no artist after the Baroque is really on the ultimate short list.

However Bouguereau is a greater influence on the traditional painters of today, as much as we love the baroque, the 19th century is the future.( I just love saying stuff like that!)
That Nymphs and Satyrs hits people in a way that almost no other painting in the nation does. Painters have logged on to this blog and told their personal stories of encountering this painting. Bouguereau is special, there is more than just a good painter there.

Please review my post and notice I said "one of the most powerful", not "one of the best" that is a different thing. So you mustn't take offense that I have asked you to agree to that.

For the connoisseur, the Titian at the ISG is the better painting absolutely, but the Bouguereau will turn more heads.People are just knocked out by that painting.

Stapleton Kearns said...

While I labored over my response,you evidently submitted pretty much the same thing....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will allow you the last word.

jeff said...

"What is the inspiration in saying "well, Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens are simply on a level beyond comprehension...but Bouguereau, that we can aspire to!"

That's not what I was saying nor do I think anyone else was saying that as well. One can aspire to anything, however getting there is another thing. Frank Mason aspired to paint like Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt and Hals. They were his main influence. Did he attain it? I think he came very close. He's 86 or 87 and not in good health so I think he has made his mark so to speak.

The French model of teaching is well organized and has a system of that is tested and works. What people do with it is another thing.
There is not much of a record of how Rubens learned, we do know he was very keen on student artist learning from casts and statues.
So the French model is very similar in this regard.