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: 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)