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William Adolphe Bouguereau

1825-1905

French Academic Classical painter, teacher, frescoist and draftsman

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The First Mourning

1888

203 x 252 cms | 79 3/4 x 99 ins
Oil on canvas

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

| Argentina

"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