“William-Adolphe Bouguereau (November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter. Bouguereau was a staunch traditionalist whose realistic genre paintings and mythological themes were modern interpretations of Classical subjects with a heavy emphasis on the female human body. Although he created an idealized world, his almost photo-realistic style was popular with rich art patrons. He was very famous in his time but today his subject matter and technique receive relatively little attention compared to the popularity of the Impressionists.” ¹
Although many of his paintings are well known, Bouguereau is sadly obscure to the modern public. Eclipsed by the ones he despised, his slicked and ethereal figures embody a grace that is lost to our century. Whether just or not, his refinement of the world and smooth canvases (or licked finish) were harshly criticized by the Impressionists for being symbols of the rigid past. Though it must be said that Bouguereau did not revolutionize the art world with new techniques or shocking depictions, he did however excell in the traditional academic style that was his.
He was influenced by the artists of the Renaissance, having stayed and studied at the Villa Medici in Rome and was condemned for his muses. A comparison with one of his favorites, Raphael, delighted him.
“M. Bouguereau has a natural instinct and knowledge of contour. The eurythmic of the human body preoccupies him, and in recalling the happy results which, in this genre, the ancients and the artists of the sixteenth century arrived at, one can only congratulate M. Bouguereau in attempting to follow in their footsteps…Raphael was inspired by the ancients…and no one accused him of not being original.”
William helped advance the cause of women artists and devoted his life to his passion. He is quoted with saying that if he could not give himself to his painting, he was miserable.
A perfect example and symbol of the eternal quarrel between lovers of the past and lovers of the future, William Adolphe Bouguereau, once hailed as the embodiment of taste and elegance, has fallen into oblivion. Recent efforts to resurect his name have left him with a slightly larger audience though he is still very far from attaining in death the fame he enjoyed whilst living.