Saturday, March 21, 2015

William-Adolphe Bouguereau

oil on canvas
147 × 200 cm    
San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas, USA

"In painting, I'm an idealist. I see only the beautiful in art and, for me, art is the beautiful. Why reproduce what is ugly in nature? I don't see why it should be necessary." (William Bouguereau)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a French academic painter. He 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. His sense of idealism was his guiding principle, regarding the ugly as worthless for representation. He has left a large body of work and he is undoubtedly a key figure in 19th century French art.

He was born in La Rochelle. He showed talent in drawing from an early age and studied under Louis Sage who himself had trained under Ingres. In 1846, after winning first prize in a figure painting competition in Bordeaux, he travelled to Paris and entered the atelier of Francois Picot. His early work mainly consisted of the production of academies (cast drawings and pencil life studies) and to studies of anatomy and perspective.

In 1848 he joined the National Guard to fight on the side of the monarchy in the French revolution. In 1850 he won a three year fellowship at the Villa Medici. He travelled widely around Italy painting many landscapes which were to inform many of his later genre paintings. In 1870, he took part in the Franco-Prussian War and, upon returning to his artistic pursuits was elected to the Academie des Beaux Arts de l'Institute de France in 1876. In 1888 he was named Professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and became one of the most influential teachers at the school. He painted 826 paintings.

Near the end of his life he 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."