Monday, May 20, 2013

William-Adolphe Bouguereau • Moissonneuse

William-Adolphe Bouguereau
(FRENCH, 1825–1905)
signed -W-BOUGUEREAU and dated 1868 (lower right)
oil on canvas
41 7/8 by 33 1/2 in.
106.5 by 85 cm


  1. Wow, once again, great details! I saw the Sothesby reproduction, but your close ups are far better.

    I found two things particularly interesting: the skecth-like image in the bakground (planar, synthetics shapes, similar at those sketches that painters presented for the concourse of Rome), and the fact that this painting seems much more "fully opaque" than others of BOuguereau. Even the modeling of the hands are more "squarish" and opaque than usually, Don't you think?

    1. "synthetic"
      ~ I would say 'organic' …but is it a circle …organic shapes being the product of the artist's synthesis of organic forms into abstract 2-d shapes‽
      Nice and simple, loose organic forms and the big light/shade shapes, many would be scared to leave it as such.

      ""sketches that painters presented for the concourse of Rome""
      ~ The old 'Concours d'esquisse peinte', a valuable practice, creating and painting scenes from the mind. Thats how Bouguereau probably painted that bit, with aid from croquis of peasant figures and groupings.

      ""more "fully opaque" than others""
      ~ Yes, quite noticeable in the darks of the blouse, the surface is dense. That style of finish isn't uncharacteristic of Bouguereau's work pre-1870*, particularly in paintings that reflect Renaissance & Ingres School** influences.

      *Upon hearing "Bouguereau" most envision his art during the years 1870~1900.

      **An example that springs to my mind ~ Henri Lehmann's Faustine Léo

      "modeling of the hands are more "squarish""
      ~ Yes and no. Her left hand isn't that unusual, but the right one, with fingers on the water vessel, presented the problem of rendering/depicting the slight foreshortening in a low light condition, the subtle tones and rounded forms needed to be countered with squarer than usual shapes and crisper edges, so as to make the forms project.

  2. Thanks for the answer! I was suspecting an evolve in Bouguereau style, and it si true that his early works are -generally- more opaque. I didn't associated at first.

    Exactly, I was refereing to the "Concours d'esquisse peinte"; the image in the background remind me that practice, of wich the impressionist take so much.

    Great great point with the foreshortening in low light. "The rounded forms need to be countered with squarer than usual shapes to make the form project. Great point to tak account in my own
    paintings. Thanks for the advice! :)

    (and thanks for the refering of Lehman, I know very little of his work)

    1. Happy to answer (adds text to my post).

      You might also be interested in: Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864), Amaury-Duval (1808-1885), and Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856)

      also the excellent essay, Ingres and Co.: A Master and His Collaborators, which begins on p.523 of Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch

  3. Bouguereau's treatment of skin always seem so intimate and natural at first, but when you see a close up of this girl's ear with the earring (thanks), you can't help but compare it to Vermeer's famous girl with the pearl earring, and Bouguereau suffers in the comparison. All of Bouguereau's effort to conceal brush strokes (or any other trace of the artist's fingerprint) seems misguided when you see how Vermeer can achieve a more intimate, human result without trying to conceal the source of the image.

    1. Re:Intimate
      This 1 Bouguereau canvas is the square inch equivalent of 4~6 Vermeer's


      This particular canvas is less an intimate depiction than a monumental one, in the spirit of Michelangelo, either directly or by way of Millet* or Jules Breton**, favorability of comparison not withstanding, add a nameplate and think Sistine Chapel.

      *Millet, a student of Hippolyte De La Roche, dit Paul Delaroche, see the previous blogpost "Eat Your Porridge!, or: All roads lead to David‽"
      **Breton, a favorite of Van Gogh, see also comments on
      **Breton, a student of Michel Martin Drolling who was a student of …David!

      Re:Brush strokes
      I can't speak to "Girl with the Pearl Earring", having never seen the actual painting, but I have gazed upon 10(?) Vermeer's and nearly 300 Bouguereau's (should I have included a '!'), and can say the Vermeer's are as smooth as the average Bouguereau.

      D.A. said, "All of Bouguereau's effort to conceal brush strokes…":
      First, smooth is effortless, choice of ground, increased brush pressure and a medium that levels the strokes and fuses its edges. Secondly:

      "Nous savons combien au point de vue technique la facture et l'exécution de Bouguereau ont recentré de nombreaux détracteurs! On a parlé de blairottageº*, ce dont l'artiste rit encore n'ayant jamais eu recours à ce moyen…" ~ Émile Bayard, "William Bouguereau" in Le Monde Moderne (Paris: A. Quantin), December 1897 pp.841~856, Bayard worked as an illustrator, you might have seen his work.

      º*blairottage; badger-blending, employing a badger hair blender brush

      Bouguereau's paint is nearly always active and engaging. Globules, scumbles, an aggressive and often uncovered ébauche, impasto from a fully loaded brush, turpentine thinned strokes, paint dragged, flicked and applied with a knife. His broad popularity notwithstanding, Bouguereau is quite the painter's painter, or as Lovis Corinth would testify:

      When Corinth's student Oskar Moll had told him of his plans to go to Paris to study with Henri Matisse, Corinth gruffly replied: " What do you want to go to Paris for? The old Bouguereau is dead, and there is nothing new."

      1869-17 Italienne au Tambourin ~ My detail of the ear is unacceptable, but have a look at the earring/necklace/shoulder/blouse. At this point I should steer those interested to the David pupil Louis Léopold Robert, for no Bouguereau book will.

      It saddens me that the painting equivalent of excessive whammy barring thrills so many. :(

    2. the painting equivalent of excessive whammy barring thrills so many

      Ahhh listen baby! I ain't braggin'...but I'm the....


  4. Hi! Since you have a great eye for surfaces finish in Bouguereau, I would like to ask you a question in which you perhaps can guide me.

    In Bouguereau, I have difficulties identifying the supposed extensive use of palette knife work (in the flesh, not in backgrounds, and this according to Bellanger).

    Any clues to help in this identification? How does it looks? Parallel scratches? What could have been his aim with this? Smoothing things? To give some tooth to the next layers? To add transparency?

    1. Is possible also that his use were more extensive posterior to 1870

    2. I would say smoothing (say, a rough lay-in),adding tooth for subsequent layers, creating variation (giving the flesh some "play.")

      I know I've seen obvious examples (even in the finish) …I'll look & keep my eyes open for it.

  5. I would like to send you a couple of details of an unfinished Bouguereau to see what you think of them, as representative or not of the artist process. Do you have an email?

    1. (As always…) Sorry for the delayed reply …please do .

    2. Hi, thanks everyone for the great posts. I love Bouguereau and I am trying to copy a print I bought at the store. It looks like an unsigned Bouguereau. Does anyone recognize this piece?