Sunday, April 12, 2009


Temptation William Adoplphe Bouguereau

When I started out painting there were as I have said, almost no books on 19th century painting. There were books on Titian or Rembrandt and Ingres. When I discovered the art of Bouguereau, there was no good way to learn much about him .Today there are a number of fine books and also larger overviews of that whole wonderful era of painting. My blog is intended to be a tutorial and I am presenting some artists who I think you should know, in fact I intend to do more of that. But I am not going to be doing deep scholarship on these artists. There are folks out there, not burdened by the painting thing who do that. I will present a small amount of biography to put this artist into historical context, the Art Renewal Center that can be linked from t,o this site has a an enormous amount of both information and editorial opinion about Bouguereau. You can go there if you want to know more. What I intend to do though is make you aware of him.

Sometimes students or people to whom I have been ranting and raving ,have asked why I spend so much time looking at this old art. I explain to them that in order to make great paintings you need to know what they look like. If you and I were talking about rock and roll and I brought up Chuck Berry and you said who? I would conclude that you knew nothing about rock and roll. There is no music without musicians. There is no painting without painters. If you want to learn about painting, you need to learn about painters, besides its fun, I think you are going to love this guys work. You may already know it, but if not lets have a look.

Bougeruereau was born in La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast of France, the son of a wine merchant. The talented young man was sent first to study in Pons with Louis Sage ( probably a student of Ingres ) and then to Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and in the studio of Francois Edward Picot.

In 1850 he won a coveted award called the Prix De Rome, which was a scholarship to live and study in Italy for a year. Only ten of these were awarded each year. There he studied the masters and the ancient architecture of Italy.He also used the time to travel and copy great masterworks. So from the first he was a gifted and terribly hard working young artist and was recognized as that.


willek said...

Funny, in the top painting with the woman lying on the grass with her child, should there not be a reflection of both the woman and the child, or parts thereof, in the water? The angle of incidence, the angle of refraction and all that? Maybe, if you are Bougereau you can get away with it. WillEK

Stapleton Kearns said...


No.And Yes.

Unknown said...

James Gurney just did a post on the prix de rome. I must say that to win that scholarship definitely put you in a class above the rest.

I really appreciate that Bouguereau did so many portraits of working class people, especially younger women. That was probably very progressive for the time. Plus, they are so full of expression and amazing technique to boot.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I also read J.Gurneys blog every day. I learn a lot there.He is an absolutely amazing draftsman.

Did you know that Bouguereau worked to get women into drawing classes etc. He was very progressive. Although a generation later his idealized peasant children would be criticized for not showing the real plight of the underclasses,which was of course, no part of his purpose....Stape