Friday, April 17, 2009

Bouguereau, and historical precedent


Here's the donkey! This painting which has been called Return from the Harvest, was actually named the Donkey Ride by the artist. This particularly fine painting lives at the Cummer museum in Jacksonville Florida. I have never seen the original, but I would like to. I'll bet its a knockout. It is 42" by 95 inches . That's seven feet, nine inches high!

Let me show you some paintings from an earlier French artist, of the same sort of subjects Bouguereau painted. My aim here is to show that Bouguereau was an extension of the French tradition and not some oddity of the 19th century. He extends a tradition of idyllic "Arcadian" pictures from several generations of French painters before him . His late 19th century "slick" handling makes it seem a new and decadent sort of art, that he invented himself, but it is not. First another Bouguereau;


Now, as a comparison, this painting below is by Francois Boucher 1703-1770.


The calligraphic, more drawn look is different from the Bouguereau's, but the naked nymphs, and goddesses are from the same casting agency. How could anything be more lovely, there is nice glowing color, and real clean drawing, notice how "open" the lights are. Here's another Boucher.

And another;

I can hardly believe this is legal. Send the children out of the room. We are only doing this because we have to, I'd much rather be looking at sharks preserved in formaldehyde.

And now I will end with another Bouguereau:

So you see, There is an on going tradition within French painting of these rather sexualized and superbly beautiful Arcadian pictures . Tomorrow....More Bouguereau! and another historic comparison followed by a discussion of modeling.


Richard J. Luschek II said...

I recently gave a talk and demo at the Cincinnati Womens Art Club. I love to discuss these seemingly over sexed images, as many women pass them off as sexist or misogynistic. Those same 'feminists' hail Picasso as a wonderful modern man.
The sexist Bouguereau was the first to open a school for training women painters in France, while Picasso spent his life leaving a trail of broken women and painting them as monsters.

I notice while typing this, that spell check recognizes Picasso, but not Bouguereau, so who is more important?

It is hard to not stop before a Bouguereau and not gasp in wonder at how he manage to paint it. It seems as though his painting were just breathed onto the canvas.

Stapleton Kearns said...


What a perceptive comparison. My post I am working on is about the prep work Mr. Bouguereau did to make his paintings.
What do you suppose Picasso did to those women that moved both eyes on to one side of their heads like flounders? Left broken and floundering.
When I do a demo I usually paint a seascape out of my head. What did you paint? I also have a rubber chicken ( no kidding ) that I produce at one point during the demo. The few times I have forgotten it people have called out from the back of the room "wheres the rubber chicken?".

Unknown said...

Boucher was a great draftsman, but man, Bouguereau's skin tones are to die for. Boucher's seem too yellow and flat.

Stapleton Kearns said...


All of us are,compared to Bouguereau,too yellow and flat.I would have a difficult time placing one artist above the other though.I love them both. The rollicking, good natured,cheekinesss of the Bouchers is really charming. They are both variations on the same sort of picture. The Bouguereau's have the advantage of being made at a point closer to us in time. They seem more "photographic" so they are more approachable for us.It is because they are recent, that they have been such an influence on young traditional painters......Stape

Amicus Asini said...

Thank your for the "Promenade à âne" - i it's now in my Blog about donkeys, Greatings from Switzerland