Saturday, April 16, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Bouguereau

William-Adolfe Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, France in 1825.  His family were harvesters and merchants of olive oil and wine, but it was his uncle, a Catholic priest, who first introduced him to classical and Biblical subjects.  He showed promising artistic talent at an early age, and by 1846, he was enrolled in the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and won the Prix de Rome in 1850.
During his stay in Rome for the Prix de Rome scholarship, Bouguereau painted very classical, Renaissance-type nudes, religious subjects and portraits - each with an uncanny, almost photographic nature.  He painted in this traditional academic style for his entire career, and would regularly exhibit his work at the Paris Salon.
Bouguereau's classical approach to composition and his ability to paint his female sitters with such charm and beauty heightened his reputation.  His painting of skin tones and features such as hands and feet were some of the most admirable qualities in his paintings.  In the 1850s, Bouguereau came into contact with a few wealthy art dealers, and through their connections, he met a number of others who would help him in his rise and success.  He received a number of commissions to decorate private homes, churches, and other buildings.
In his own time, Bouguereau was highly regarded as a successful painter, and his work was in high demand by private and public institutions as well as wealthy private patrons and dealers.  He was well known in a number of countries including Spain, Belgium, and the United States.  A great number of his works are still privately owned.  Altogether, Bouguereau painted over 800 paintings in his career, and he was certainly one of the most consistent painters as he was hardly ever known to have changed his style unless he was commissioned to do so. 
Bouguereau died in 1905, and his reputation deteriorated from that point.  However, with the rise of new classical realist painters of today, in response to what I would consider the frivolity and lack of discipline associated with postmodern art, Bouguereau's academic style is rising back into popularity, and he is perhaps the highest regarded artist of the Art Renewal Center, one of the most extensive online reference sites dedicated to furthering the discipline of traditional academic art (see my links).

William-Adolfe Bouguereau
The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
oil on canvas
212 x 309 cm

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