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Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau (Detail)
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  • Response to Bouguereau Criticism

    by Fred Ross

    Bouguereau's models were not rich kids dressed up like peasants.
    They were peasants dressed up like peasants. Occasionally he painted a peasant dressed up like a gypsy. And anyone who thinks Bouguereau's children look saccharin, are looking with prejudice from the start. Stop and think about it. When we look at children in general, we tend to think most of them are cute, or sweet. If you're a normal adult, you even enjoy having them around you; seeing them play and even mentoring them if your life and time permits.

    Bouguereau successfully captures children the way most of us like to see them.

    Unabashed their gazes are direct, yet filled with trust and love. Implicit is the moral imperative that adults must not betray that trust.

    His unambiguous message is that parents have an ethical obligation to nurture and care for children, and Bouguereau conceived his compositions and painted ?innocents? with the clear purpose to intensify those normal intuitive feelings. His choice of peasants and gypsies comes from his uncompromising belief in equality and human rights. What better way to elevate all humanity than by doing so with the working underclass or society?s pariahs, respectively, peasants and gypsies?

    Remember too, the fact most successfully suppressed by his detractors, that Bouguereau working with Rudolph Julian, Jules Lefebvre and Robert Tony Fleury, opened up the French Art Academies, and ateliers to women for the first time in history. Starting by being taught and critiqued separately it was but a few years later that the classes were mixed and fully integrated.

    Returning to the main point of this response, Bouguereau?s children are singularly painted with a delicately complex variety of nuanced feelings and moods which explore young psyches during the maturation process. View these eight examples below and tell me if modernist descriptions are justified? Are they all just maudlin sweet and inanely sentimental?

    Or is there really much more there that goes ignorantly and obdurately unobserved and blindly unappreciated when students have been primed by arrogant misinformed and under-educated ?professors? to feel that they will be viewed by them and their peers as having bad taste should they dare to see anything else?

    As if when feeling "sentiment" there is something for which we should ashamed. I'd be more ashamed to look at these children and feel nothing.

    You really need to follow the links for each of them and look closely at their faces. These girls are pretty. But don't confuse pretty with sentimental. Every one of them exudes different emotions, and nobody was better than William Bouguereau at capturing the subtlest shades of personality and mood.