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Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau (Detail)
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French painter, teacher, frescoist & draftsman
born 1825- died 1905

Born in: La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes, France)
Died in: La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes, France)

Also known as:
William Adolphe Bouguereau


Student of:

Teacher of:

Husband of:

Grand officer of:
Legion d'Honneur

Officer of:
Legion d'Honneur

President of:
Societe des Artistes Francais

Member of:
Academie des Beaux-Arts

Biographical Information

Excerpt from the Biography of William Bouguereau, by Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross:

"William Bouguereau is unquestionably one of history's greatest artistic geniuses. Yet in the past century, his reputation and unparalleled accomplishments have undergone a libelous, dishonest, relentless and systematic assault of immense proportions. His name was stricken from most history texts and when included it was only to blindly, degrade and disparage him and his work. Yet, as we shall see, it was he who single handedly opened the French academies to women, and it was he who was arguably the greatest painter of the human figure in all of art history. His figures come to life like no previous artist has ever before or ever since achieved. He wasn't just the best ever at painting human anatomy, more importantly he captured the tender and subtlest nuances of personality and mood. Bouguereau caught the very souls and spirits of his subjects much like Rembrandt. Rembrandt is said to have captured the soul of age. Bouguereau captured the soul of youth.

Considering his consummate level of skill and craft, and the fact that the great preponderance of his works are life-size, it is one of the largest bodies of work ever produced by any artist. Add to that the fact that fully half of these paintings are great masterpieces, and we have the picture of an artist who belongs like Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Carravaggio, in the top ranks of only a handful of masters in the entire history of western art.

Having died in 1905, we can suppose it best that he was not here to see the successful assault on traditional art that turned the art world inside out and upside down in the decades that followed his death. His fate was to be much like that of Rembrandt, whose work was also ridiculed and banished from museums and official art circles for the hundred years following his death. Rembrandt's reputation wasn't resuscitated until the 1790's (he died in 1669) due to the influence of the founder of the Royal Academy in London, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Even as recently as 1910, Reynolds paintings brought higher prices at auction than Rembrandt. Bouguereau's re-appreciation can rather accurately be traced from about 1979 when his prices at auction quadrupled that year alone, and then was further catapulted by the 1984 retrospective that traveled from the Petite Palais in Paris, to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada and finally to the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford. In 1980 The Metropolitan Museum in New York permanently hung two of his works that been left in storage from early in the century.

Since 1960, his values in the market place have literally exploded, doubling on average every 3.5 years. From works selling for and average $500 to $1500 in 1960, they have accelerated to where in the last three years alone his auction records have been repeatedly broken another 4 times. In 1998 The Heart's Awakening sold for $1,410,000 at Christie's New York. In 1999 Cupid et Psyche, Enfants sold for $1,760,000 also at Christie's to be surpassed the very next day at Sotheby's when Alma Perens owned by Sylvester Stalone sold for $2,650,00. That record only lasted one year until May of 2000, when Charite sold $3,520,000 back at Christie's. Over the last 20 years his paintings all over the world have been taken out of their crates, basements, storage rooms and attics, dusted off, many cleaned and expertly restored, and today over a hundred museums and institutions proudly have his works on permanent exhibit. Reproductions of his paintings are selling by the millions in poster shops and gift stores world wide, and there is much evidence that they are even outselling the reproductions of paintings by any of the most famous modernists. The definitive catalog Raissoneé on his life and work by Damien Bartoli and the Bouguereau Committee was published after 25 years of work was published in late 2010. Since Bouguereau is one of the most important artists in history, we will be regularly adding additional images by him to this site. Besides Mr. Bartoli's excellent biography below, you can read more about him in the ARC Philosophy."

We wish to express our gratitude to Damien Bartoli for his help in cataloging the paintings in this gallery.

Art Renewal Center Articles about William Adolphe Bouguereau

William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the Craft of Picture-making
Bouguereau's Legacy to the Student of Painting
Bouguereau Revisited
William Bouguereau and his Religious Works
Catalog Raisonné on William Bouguereau
Introduction to the Catalog Raisonne of William Bouguereau
About Bouguereau
Painting Identification Contest
The Great Bouguereau Debate
William Bouguereau by Harper's Weekly
Velazquez or Bouguereau?
Biography of William Bouguereau
Bouguereau at Work
William Bouguereau and The Real 19th Century

[Read More]

   Artist Portraits

   Artist Letters

   Books and Related Products About This Artist

Au Bord du Ruisseau

Translated title: At the Edge of the Brook
Oil on canvas
Collection of Fred and Sherry Ross (United States)

Added: 2001-08-27

Commentary by Fred and Kara Ross:

This painting is one of the most sensitive single figures ever painted. Hauntingly enigmatic, but kind and beautiful, this young peasant girl's childhood innocence blends seamlessly with the emerging woman who rivets your eyes to hers. She stares directly at you with a serene kindness imbued with goodness and trust. Inherent is the moral imperative not to betray that trust. This is a prime example of Bouguereau's unique ability to capture ever subtle nuances of personality and mood.

Symbolically she sits by "The Edge of the River". She sits at perhaps the greatest crossroads in life. Her hands and legs are crossed to accentuate that symbolism as are the trunks of the trees behind and to the viewer's right. She wears a humanistic halo of vibrant red flowers alluding to the spirituality inherent in youth.

This masterpiece was the poster painting for the 1984 William Bouguereau retrospective that traveled from Paris' Petite Palais, to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, and finally to Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum.

ARC's Chairman, Fred Ross was one of 4 people on a symposium held there, along with Dr. Barbara Weinberg, Gergory Hedberg, and a reported for the local paper.

ARC has a few dozen of the original posters left and can offer them here for the same price as our high resolution images - $219 plus $19.50 S&H. If you would like to order one, please copy and paste this into an email and send it to store@artrenewal.com

Le Ravissement de Psyche

Translated title: The Abduction of Psyche
Oil on canvas
209 x 120 cm
(82.28" x 47.24")
Private collection

Added: 2001-08-27

"This is one of Bouguereau's more romantic pieces. With Psyche finally in the arms of her love, Cupid, the two ascend to heaven. The subtle use of color is truly astonishing. The light and dark purples of the cloth surrounding Cupid and Psyche play beautifully against the purple grey clouds and mountains. The myth of Cupid and Psyche dates all the way back to Apuleius in the 2nd century AD. In the myth, Psyche is a beautiful princess of whom the goddess Venus is jealous. In her rage she orders her son cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster, but Cupid falls in love with her himself. After several trials Cupid and Psyche make their plea to the gods who turn Psyche into an immortal and allow them to be married in heaven (British Library). The story of Cupid and Psyche was a subject matter for several of Bouguereau's paintings including Cupid and Psyche as Children (1889), Psyche and Cupid (1896), and Psyche."

-- by Kara Ross

Nymphes et Satyre

Translated title: Nymphs and Satyr
Oil on canvas
260 x 180 cm
(102.36" x 70.87")
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States)

Added: 2001-08-27

Four nymphs tease and play with a satyr by trying to pull him into a lake. One nymph waves behind to three other nymphs in the distance, perhaps beckoning them to come and play with the satyr as well. The satyr half heartedly tries to resist the nymph's wiles, entranced by their beauty. Nymphs are from Greek mythology. They are considered to be minor female deities, and have a duty to protect different elements of nature such as streams, mountains and meadows (pantheon). The male counterpart for a nymph is a satyr. A satyr is a creature also from Greek mythology having the torso and face of a man, ears and tail of a horse, and feet of a goat. They are known for being lustful and fertile creatures. Bouguereau captures an incredible sense of motion in this piece. One can feel the struggle for the satyr to keep his ground, and the nymphs' joyous struggle to pull him in. The three dimensional rendering of form and movement is reminiscent of some of Bernini's most famous works at the Palace Borghesi in Rome, such as Pluto and Prosperpine, and Apollo and Daphne.
        On January 4th, 2002, our chairman, Fred Ross, described to an audience of Portrait Artists meeting at the Salmagundi Club in Manhattan, how this very work played the pivotal roll in altering his understanding of art history, and lead to the way to the uncovering of this entire era and ultimately to the creation of the Art Renewal Center. I quote him rather extensively below, but you can find the entire speech (to which I was a witness to the incredibly reception and enthusiasm) at: http://www.artrenewal.org/articles/2002/NYSOPA_speech/bouguereau1.asp.

Excerpt from ARC Chairman Fred Ross's 2002 speech at the Salmagundi Club:

In October 1977, I walked into the Clark Museum to see their thirty Renoirs, and after leaving the Renoir galleries walked out into a major hall, at the end of which was a painting that grabbed me body and soul. It was a life-size painting of four water nymphs playfully dragging a mythological satyr into a lake against his will. Frozen in place, gawking with my mouth agape, cold chills careening up and down my spine, I was virtually gripped as if by a spell that had been cast. It was so alive, so beautiful and so compelling. Finally, after about fifteen or twenty minutes of soaking up wave after wave of artistic and spiritual ecstasy, I started to take back control of my consciousness .... my mind started racing with unanswered questions. My first thought was "I haven't felt this way about a work of art since I stood before Michelangelo's David. Then I thought, "This must be one of the greatest old master paintings every produced. But no name or country or time would come to mind. Italian High Renaissance, 17th Century Dutch, Carravaggio, Fragonard, Ingres, Prudhon ... back further perhaps ... Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo, no! no! NO! Not one of those names or times felt anything like what I was looking at.
        Then I approached the painting more closely, and saw the name mispronouncing it as Bouguereau at the bottom, and the date 1873 -- 1873?
        How was that possible? I'd learned that the greatest artists at that time were, Manet, Corot, Courbet, and Renoir ... that the techniques and greatness of the old master's had died out, and that nobody knew how to do anything remotely this great by the 1870's.
        Years of undergraduate courses and another sixty credits post graduate in art, and I had never heard that name. Who was he? Was he important? How could he not be important? Anyone who could have done this must surely be deserving of the highest accolades in the art world. Then I asked the guard if they had any more works by him, and he asked somebody else, and I was led to a second work of a single female nude, seated by the water holding her knees. It was one of the finest nudes I had ever seen.
        In somewhat of a state of shock from this experience, I decided that I must find out if this artist ever comes up for sale at the largest auction house in New York, Parke Bernet who was years later bought out by Sotheby's. Was he deemed important enough to be sold at auction? My only experiences collecting up to then at auction was to purchase a few etchings by old master's: Rembrandt, Durer, Breughel and Goya. But they were very famous names.
        I was at the Clark on Sunday October 2nd 1977, I stopped in at Sotheby's that Tuesday October 4th, and as fate would have it, there were three Bouguereau paintings being offered for sale that coming Friday. I purchased one called Les Enfants Endormis, of two babies asleep in each other's arms. The hands of fate certainly seemed involved, for later I learned that these were the first Bouguereaus to come up for sale in the last eighteen months, and another was not to appear on the auction block until twelve months later. So the timing could not have been any more precise for fortuitous. I remember too, there was an energy of excitement in the air, and I somehow knew that I would never again be able to purchase works by these artists at these prices. But I didn't know which ones to buy.
        And I still didn't know who he was. During the next few weeks I started researching Bouguereau and the entire period as much as I could using any free time I had.
        But almost immediately, I discovered that he had won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1851 at the age of twenty-six, and after winning nearly every accolade and award imaginable for an artist of his time, ultimately become the President of the Academy, Head of the Salon, President of the Legion of Honor. He was in fact, considered the greatest French artist of his time, and Paris was the center of art world. All this made me feel very good about my instincts, and that I had intuitively identified as being one of the worlds' greatest artists somebody who had generally been considered as such by most of the world during the final decades of the 19th century.
        As an aside, consider this interesting article in the New York Times, published April 7, 2000, by KATIE HAFNER:

Lenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art [let me repeat 'the director of the Museum of Modern Art'], has a vivid memory of the first time he was profoundly moved by a work of art. At age 7, during a visit to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., he was separated from his parents.
        "While wandering in search of them, he came upon a huge painting, Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau. His parents found him a half-hour later, still staring at the 6-by-8-foot painting. 'I just remember being completely transfixed by it,' said Mr. Lowry, who is now 45.
        "The experience helped Mr. Lowry believe in the transformative power of art and what he calls the 'unique encounters that occur when one is fortunate to confront directly an extraordinary object.' Mr. Lowry, as well as other museum directors, wants to broaden the opportunity for such transforming moments by providing encounters with virtual art, viewed on a computer screen and brought to the art-viewing public via the World Wide Web.

Ironically, this is exactly what we've done at the Art Renewal Center, which you can all find at www.artrenewal.org.
        I can't help but wonder why Mr. Lowry after having such a similar experience to my own with the same exact painting, has not aided in the resurrection of academic art. But many with careers in the art world are intimidated, and afraid to speak out against accepted gospels of Modernist theory.

-- by Kara Ross (with a quotation from Fred Ross)


Translated title: Pieta
Oil on canvas
230 x 148 cm
(90.55" x 58.27")
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (Dallas, Texas, United States)

Added: 2001-08-27

The Pietà, 1876, provides a very unique depiction of this most famous of imagery. The weeping Mary cloaked in a robe of black is mourning the death of her son whom she holds to her chest. The dead body of Jesus limply hangs in her arms while eight weeping angels surround them. The angels are clad in the colors of the rainbow and create an arc over Mary and Jesus. In the Old Testament, after the great flood had ended, Noah and his family saw an arcing rainbow, which was a sign from God that the flood was over and the world could be born anew. In Bouguereau's Pietà, the rainbow symbolizes that the sacrifice of Jesus was complete and that the human soul can be born anew and ascend to God after death. Mary looks out and up. It is intended to be unclear whether if from her seated position she is focused on the viewer or the heavens with her swollen red eyes, filled with sorrow and accusation. Most likely as a mother mourns the loss of her child, she is accusing both the heavens and the earth for the pain she and her son has suffered. This interpretation of Mary is different from Michelangelo's Pietà or many other versions, where Mary is offering her child to the world. Bouguereau's Mary clutches Christ, not offering him to a sinful world that required her son's sacrifice. At Jesus' feet lies the crown of thorns used to mock him during the Crucifixion; it lies on a white cloth covered in the blood of Christ, showing the torment Jesus went though in order that humanity could attain salvation. The white robe and pitcher of water represent the purity of Jesus' soul. Both Jesus and Mary are surrounded by a halo of light indicating their holiness. This painting was inspired by the death of Bouguereau's eldest son, George, who died directly before Bouguereau started work on this piece in 1875. Bouguereau had the grave misfortune to have lost 4 of his five children during his lifetime.
-by Kara Lysandra Ross

Excerpt from the article: William Bouguereau and his Religious Works

L'Amour au Papillon

Translated title: Cupid with a Butterfly
Oil on canvas
168 x 117 cm
(66.14" x 46.06")
Collection of Fred and Sherry Ross (United States)

Added: 2001-08-27

"Cupid sits to rest on the edge of a fountain with his arrows laid beside him. He is tenderly and carefully removing a butterfly from his arm, symbolizing the tenderness and care needed to keep relationships strong. The flowing water behind him might represent the flow of time and how each moment must be treasured, especially during one's childhood. Since Cupid is depicted as a child in this work, the painting is also making the statement that Mankind must nurture and take care with the wings of its children with tenderness, just as Cupid takes great care with the wings of this butterfly. Often ridiculed for his paintings of Cupid, Bouguereau's detractors fail to see the celebration of life and humanity which is the focus in so many of his works."

-- by Kara Ross

According to Damien Bartoli, Knoedler purchased this work directly from the artist June 2, 1888, during a visit to the artist's studio, even before it was finished and paid 15,000 francs.

This work is truly a celebration of childhood and beauty. Cupid takes great care not to damage the wings of his butterfly. Implicit to the 19th century audience was the quite progressive message for that day and age, that it's the duty of parents and society to nurture and care for the wings of our children so that they too may fly freely undamaged. It was the artists and writers of the day that carried the liberal message of righting the wrongs of prior eras, and codifying cultural advances like child labor laws and charity and welfare for the poor and downtrodden as seen in so many of the social realists of the day. Bouguereau took the positive side of that goal, and elevated the lowest of the low in society, the gypsies and peasants, to the heavens, painting them both real and ideal at the same time. So too was his similar goals with his mythological works like this cupid who is presented to us as a real but incredibly beautiful child.

M. Knoedler (acquired from artist in 1888)
Goupil and Co. New York
Isabel van Wie Willys (formerly Mrs. John Willys)
(sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, October 25,1945 lot # 8.
Findlay Galleries (acquired at above sale)
William Findlay (sale Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, March 2, 1967, lot 104 as L'amour et papillon)
Galt Galleries (acquired at above sale)

Literature: Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 156

L'Amour au Papillon
Le Repos

Translated title: Rest
Oil on canvas
164 x 107 cm
(64.57" x 42.13")
Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio, United States)

Added: 2001-08-27

"Though the family depicted in this scene is poor, one can tell that they understand that money does not necessarily buy happiness. The mother tenderly holds her baby with her older son asleep at her feet indicating the joy and peace that can be found in everyday family life and in motherhood. The mother gazes out at her viewers as if to ask how she could possibly need more then she already has, her greatest treasures lying in her arms and at her feet. Bouguereau was a deeply religious man, and the church in the background symbolizes that God rules over the rich as well as the poor, and that all people are children of God and equal in His eyes."

-- by Kara Ross

Flagellation de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ

Translated title: The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Oil on canvas
309 x 212 cm
(121.65" x 83.46")
Cathedral of La Rochelle (La Rochelle, France)

Added: 2001-08-27

The Flagellation of Christ, 1880 is one of Bouguereau's masterpieces, and today hangs at the Baptistery of La Rochelle Cathedral, France. Christ, tied to a column, limply hangs, his feet dragging on the ground and head hung back, he submits to his fate. Two men stand in mid swing with their whipping ropes, with a third kneeling to the lower right fastening birch branches for the next stage of the torture. Unlike the two men who are whipping or the forth man standing behind with birch branches in the ready, the kneeling man tying the branches appears to show some remorse for his actions as his hand muscles loosen slightly with the pull of the string. The viewer can feel the pain of Christ's torment, though his eyes are vacant of expression as if his soul is in another place. The crowd surrounding this event is filled with curious spectators. To the left, a young boy shelters his eyes from the horrid sight by turning his back and pressing himself against his mother. To the right, just above Christ's head, a baby looks down at him sympathetically while hoisted up on his father's shoulders. Through the crowd, a bearded man looks directly at the viewer, thereby pulling the audience into the scene as if they are too part of the crowd. It is possible that this bearded man with furrowed brow is a self portrait, so both Bouguereau and the viewer are witnessing this scene. This life size capa d'opera is every bit as magnificent as any religious works done by Raphael, Caravaggio, or Velasquez. The harmonious interplay of drawing, paint handling, composition, perspective and emotional thrust are second to none in their expressive power.
-by Kara Lysandra Ross

Excerpt from the article: William Bouguereau and his Religious Works

Naissance de Venus

Translated title: Birth of Venus
Oil on canvas
300 x 218 cm
(118.11" x 85.83")
Musee d'Orsay (Paris, France)

Added: 2001-08-27

Venus, known as the bringer of joy, Roman goddess of love and beauty stands on a shell in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by admirers. Two mermen use conch shells to trumpet her arrival as the angels that came to witness her birth ascend to heaven. This painting is truly a tour de force for Bouguereau, standing just over 9' 10" high, and just under 7'2" wide. Birth of Venus contains 22 fully worked out figures all of which come together to form an amazing composition. Bouguereau uses the goddess, Venus, as an exemplar of the Beauty in our lives. Bouguereau's Birth of Venus holds a strong resemblance to Botticelli's Birth of Venus, which also depicts Venus with long flowing hair standing on a similar shell.

-- by Kara Ross

Premier Deuil

Translated title: The First Mourning
Oil on canvas
203 x 252 cm
(79.92" x 99.21")
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Added: 2001-10-08

"The dead body of Abel lies across Adam's lap in the same manner as Christ is often depicted lying across Mary's (such as in Michaelangelo's Pieta). Adam clutches his heart out of grief fearing it will break and Eve kneels by his side crying uncontrollably, her face buried in her hands. The image is truly heart wrenching, causing the viewer to feel a great sense of compassion for the grieving couple. Bouguereau can capture the look of death with almost frightening directness. He was no stranger to death or to grief. He had five sons, four of whom died before him. First Mourning was painted directly after the death of his second son. This piece is well titled as The First Mourning because it is the first time a human has had to suffer the loss of a loved one. The grief is only magnified by the fact that their son did not just die, but was murdered by their other son Cain, making this also the first act of murder. Cain then fled, leaving Adam and Eve once again alone. Bougureau also cleverly used a play on words in titling this work, because not only are Adam and Eve mourning, but dawn approaches. It is the first 'morning' after the death of Abel. The paining has the same theme as the sculpture First Mourning by Barrias which is located at the Petits Palais in Paris. Bouguereau and Barrias lived and worked during the same period, and both these works were masterpieces that helped to define their creators."

-- by Kara Ross

Petite mendiante

Translated title: The little beggar
Oil on canvas
73.66 x 116.84 cm
(29" x 46")
Private collection

Added: 2002-05-28

"A young child sits on a stone block; her hand outstretched begging for money. Around her neck is a necklace made of simple turquoise beads, a stone that is very commonly found and very inexpensive. She looks at the viewer with desperation and exhaustion, causing a feeling of sadness in the viewer who knows she cannot be helped. Behind her is a breathtaking expanse of jagged rocks and boulders, reflecting the harshness of her life. Bouguereau often depicted the plight of the poor and downtrodden. By bringing to life the despair of those less fortunate he hoped to influence the wealthy and powerful in society to come to their aid. The Little Beggar Maid is a prime example of this type of theme, but there are many others including Little Beggars, Grape Picker, Yvonette, Far from home, and Little Girl Holding Apples in Her Hands."

-- by Kara Ross

"Few others of his era played as great a role in correcting the wrongs of society as did William Bouguereau. He single-handedly used all of his power, fame and influence to change the policies of, first the Academy Julien, and later the Academy Francais to permit for the first time ever, women artists to study and train with the men."

-- by Fred Ross

Petite mendiante