The Young Shepherdess

Artists’ Name:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) (French)

Style: Academic Realism

Date painted: 1885

How originally painted: Oil on canvas

Size of original painting: 62” x 28.5”

Where on display:

San Diego Museum of Art

The Artist:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French) (November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter.  In his realistic genre paintings he used mythological themes, making modern interpretations of classical subjects, with an emphasis on the female human body.  During his life he enjoyed significant popularity in France and the United States, was given numerous official honors, and received top prices for his work.  As the quintessential salon painter of his generation, he was reviled by the Impressionist avant-garde. By the early twentieth century, Bouguereau and his art fell out of favor with the public, due in part to changing tastes. In the 1980s, a revival of interest in figure painting led to a rediscovery of Bouguereau and his work.  Throughout the course of his life, Bouguereau executed 822 known finished paintings, although the whereabouts of many are still unknown.well.

The Painting:

The Young Shepherdess depicts a young woman tending to her flock of sheep as she looks back to the viewer with some curiosity.  A quaint scene made beautiful with a subtle attention to detail and expression that help bring the picture to life.  This pastoral painting is made with subdued colors that convey a gentle peacefulness in the scene.  It harkens back to the ideal view of a farmhand as she does her part to help with the livestock. She stands only with her sheep as they feed on a sea of grass near gentle rolling hills under an open sky.

 

Painted in 1885, The Young Shepherdess helps to evoke a nostalgic feeling in the viewer. It calls to mind a simpler life from much simpler times than today, free from the worries of modern urban life.  This woman is depicted as unthreatened and unburdened, not even wearing shoes to the pasture. All she holds is the carrot used to call the sheep to her when it is time to return them all back to their pens.  The skies are clear, the greenery is plentiful, and no danger is present. Only the winds pass by the pasture to threaten her carefully done up hair. Only the rare sound of a sheep bleating in the background breaks the peaceful silence. The rigors of city life are left far behind and out of sight.

 

William-Adolphe Bougereau's preference for traditional style paintings is showcased with The Young Shepherdess and other similar paintings he has done within the Pastoral theme.  He enjoyed painting rural settings such as the one shown in this painting here and in many other works he had done in his life. Much of his focus is on the subject and maintaining proper anatomy, lending to a more realistic painting that looks as though it could be a photograph instead of marks of oil on a canvas mounted to a board.

 

The little details in the painting as well, such as the wisps of hair blowing in the wind, the folds in the clothes that she wears, even the tiny creases in her neck as she turns towards the viewer, are also a defining trait of Bougereau's works.  They help lead to a more life-like subject, showing her as she lived in that one fragment of time. This high degree of finish can be seen in many of his other artworks as well.

 

 

Formative years:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, France, on November 30, 1825, into a family of wine and olive oil merchants. The son of Théodore Bouguereau (born 1800) and Marie Bonnin (1804), known as Adeline, William was brought up a Catholic. He had an elder brother, Alfred, and a younger sister, Marie (known as Hanna), who died when she was seven. The family moved to Saint-Martin-de-Re in 1832. Another sibling was born in 1834, Kitty. At the age of 12, Bouguereau went to Mortagne to stay with his uncle Eugène, a priest and developed a love of nature, religion and literature. In 1839, he was sent to study for the priesthood at a Catholic college in Pons. Here he was taught to draw and paint by Louis Sage, who had studied under Ingres. Bouguereau reluctantly left his studies to return to his family, now residing in Bordeaux.   There he met a local artist, Charles Marionneau, and commenced at the Municipal School of Drawing and Painting in November 1841. Bouguereau also worked as a shop assistant, hand-coloring lithographs and making small paintings that were reproduced using chromolithography. He was soon the best pupil in his class, and decided to become an artist in Paris. To fund the move, he sold portraits – 33 oils in three months. All were unsigned and only one has been traced. He arrived in Paris aged 20 in March 1846.

Bouguereau became a student at the École des Beaux-Arts. To supplement his formal training in drawing, he attended anatomical dissections and studied historical costumes and archeology. He was admitted to the studio of François-Édouard Picot, where he studied painting in the academic style. Dante and Virgil in Hell (1850) was an early example of his neo-classical works. Academic painting placed the highest status on historical and mythological subjects, and Bouguereau won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1850, aged 26, with his Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes. His reward was a three-year residence at the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy, where in addition to formal lessons he was able to study first-hand the Renaissance artists and their masterpieces, as well as Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities. He also studied classical literature, which influenced his subject choice for the rest of his career.

Villa Medici, Rome 1851–1854

The young artist entered the Prix de Rome contest in April 1848. Soon after work began there were riots in Paris, and Bouguereau enrolled in the National Guard. After an unsuccessful attempt to win the prize, he entered again in 1849. Following 106 days of competition, he again failed to win. His third attempt commenced in April 1850; five months later, he heard he had won a joint first prize. Along with other category winners, he set off for Rome in December and finally arrived at the Villa Medici in January 1851. Bouguereau explored the city, making sketches and watercolors as he went. He walked to Naples and on to Capri, Amalfi and Pompeii. Still based in Rome and working hard on course work, there were more explorations of Italy in 1852. Although he had a strong admiration for all traditional art, he particularly revered Greek sculpture, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Rubens and Delacroix. In April 1854, he left Rome and returned to La Rochelle.

Height of career:

An early reviewer stated, "M. Bouguereau has a natural instinct and knowledge of contour. The eurythmie of the human body preoccupies him, and in recalling the happy results which, in this genre, the ancients and the artists of the sixteenth century arrived at, one can only congratulate M. Bouguereau in attempting to follow in their footsteps ... Raphael was inspired by the ancients ... and no one accused him of not being original."

Raphael was a favorite of Bouguereau and he took this review as a high compliment. He had fulfilled one of the requirements of the Prix de Rome by completing an old-master copy of Raphael's The Triumph of Galatea. In many of his works, he followed the same classical approach to composition, form, and subject matter. Bouguereau's graceful portraits of women were considered very charming, partly because he could beautify a sitter while also retaining her likeness.

Although Bouguereau spent most of his life in Paris, he returned to La Rochelle again and again throughout his professional life. He was revered in the town of his birth and undertook decorating commissions from local citizens. From the early 1870s, he and his family spent every summer in La Rochelle. In 1882, he decided that rather than rent he would purchase a house, as well as local farm buildings. By August of that year, the family's permanent summer base was on the rue Verdière. The artist commenced several paintings here and completed them in his Paris studio.

Bouguereau flourished after his Villa Medici residence. In 1854–55 he decorated a pavilion at the grand house of a cousin in Angoulins, including four large paintings of figures depicting the seasons. He was happy to undertake other commissions to pay off the debts accrued in Italy and to help his penniless mother. He decorated a mansion with nine large paintings of allegorical figures. In 1856, the Ministry of State for Fine Arts commissioned him to paint Emperor Napoleon III Visiting the Victims of the Tarascon Flood. There were decorations for the chapel at Saint-Clotilde. He received the Legion of Honor on July 12, 1859. By this time, Bouguereau was turning away from history painting and lengthy commissions to work on more personal paintings, with realistic and rustic themes.

By the late 1850s, he had made strong connections with art dealers, particularly Paul Durand-Ruel (later the champion of the Impressionists), who helped clients buy paintings from artists who exhibited at the Salons. Thanks to Durand-Ruel, Bouguereau met Hugues Merle, who later often was compared to Bouguereau. The Salons annually drew over 300,000 people, providing valuable exposure to exhibited artists.

Bouguereau's fame extended to England by the 1860s. Three paintings were shown at the 1863 Salon and Holy Family (Now at Chimei Museum) was sold to Napoleon III, who presented it to his wife the Empress Eugénie, who hung it in her Tuileries apartment.  Bather (1864), a shocking nude, was submitted to an exhibition in Ghent, Belgium. It was a spectacular success and purchased by the museum at great expense. At this time, William took on decorative work at the Grand Théâtre, Bordeaux, which lasted four years. In 1875, with assistants, he began work on a La Rochelle chapel ceiling, producing six paintings on copper over the next six years. Once installed in the city in summer 1875 he began Pietà, one of his greatest religious paintings and shown at the 1876 Salon, in tribute to his son Georges. At the behest of King William III of the Netherlands, Bouguereau went to Het Loo Palace in May 1876. The king admired the artist and they spent intimate times together. In May 1878 the Paris Universal Exhibition opened to showcase French work. Bouguereau found and borrowed twelve of his paintings from their owners, including his new work Nymphaeum.

Bouguereau was a staunch traditionalist whose genre paintings and mythological themes were modern interpretations of Classical subjects, both pagan and Christian, with a concentration on the naked female form. The idealized world of his paintings brought to life goddesses, nymphs, bathers, shepherdesses, and Madonnas in a way that appealed to wealthy art patrons of the era.

Bouguereau employed traditional methods of working up a painting, including detailed pencil studies and oil sketches, and his careful method resulted in a pleasing and accurate rendering of the human form. His painting of skin, hands, and feet was particularly admired. He also used some of the religious and erotic symbolism of the Old Masters, such as the "broken pitcher" which connoted lost innocence.

Bouguereau received many commissions to decorate private houses and public buildings, and, early on, this added to his prestige and fame. As was typical of such commissions, he would sometimes paint in his own style, and at other times conform to an existing group style. He also made reductions of his public paintings for sale to patrons, of which The Annunciation (1888) is an example. He was also a successful portrait painter and many of his paintings of wealthy patrons remain in private hands.

Académie Julian:

From the 1860s, Bouguereau was closely associated with the Académie Julian where he gave lessons and advice to art students, male and female, from around the world. During several decades he taught drawing and painting to hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Many of them managed to establish artistic careers in their own countries, sometimes following his academic style, and in other cases, rebelling against it, like Henri Matisse. He married his most famous pupil, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, after the death of his first wife.

Bouguereau received many honors from the Academy: he became a Life Member in 1876; received the Grand Medal of Honor in 1885; was appointed Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1885; and was made Grand Officier of the Legion of Honor in 1905. He began to teach drawing at the Académie Julian in 1875, a co-ed art institution independent of the École des Beaux-Arts, with no entrance exams and nominal fees.

Wives and children:

In 1856, William began living with one of his models, Nelly Monchablon, a 19-year-old from Lisle-en-Rigault. Living together out of wedlock, the pair kept their liaison a secret. Their first child, Henriette, was born in April 1857; Georges was born in January 1859. A third child, Jeanne, was born 25 December 1861. The couple married quietly (for many assumed they were already wed) on 24 May 1866. Eight days later, Jeanne died from tuberculosis. In mourning, the couple went to La Rochelle, and Bouguereau made a painting of her in 1868. A fourth child, Adolphe (known as Paul), was born in October 1868. Aged 15, Georges' health suffered, and his mother took him away from the bad air of Paris. However, he died on 19 June 1875. Nelly had a fifth child in 1876, Maurice, but her health was declining and the doctors suspected that she had contracted tuberculosis. She died on 3 April 1877, and baby Maurice died two months later.

The artist planned to marry Elizabeth Jane Gardner, a pupil whom he had known for ten years, but his mother was opposed to the idea. Soon after Nelly's death, she made Bouguereau swear he would not remarry within her lifetime. After his mother's death, and after a nineteen-year engagement, he and Gardner married in Paris in June 1896. His wife continued to work as his private secretary, and helped to organize the household staff. His son Paul contracted tuberculosis in early 1899; Paul, his stepmother, and Bouguereau went to Menton in the south. When the stay was prolonged, the artist found a room in which to paint. Paul died at his father's house in April 1900, aged 32; Bouguereau had outlived four of his five children, only Henriette outlived him. Elizabeth, who was with her husband to the end, died in Paris in January 1922.

Homes:

When Bouguereau arrived in Paris in March 1846, he resided at the Hotel Corneille at 5 rue Corneille. In 1855, after his stay in Rome, he lived at 27 rue de Fleurus, and the following year rented a fourth-floor studio at 3 rue Carnot, near his apartment. In 1866, the year of his marriage to Nelly, he bought a vast plot of land on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, and an architect was commissioned to design a grand house with a top-floor studio. The family was installed in 1868, together with five servants and with his mother, Adeline, visiting daily. Bouguereau spent the rest of his life here and at La Rochelle.

Later years and death:

Bouguereau was an assiduous painter, often completing twenty or more easel paintings in a single year. Even during the twilight years of his life, he would rise at dawn to work on his paintings six days a week and would continue painting until nightfall. Throughout the course of his lifetime, he is known to have painted at least 822 paintings. Many of these paintings have been lost. Near the end of his life he described his love of his art: "Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come ... if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable."

In the spring of 1905, Bouguereau's house and studio in Paris were burgled. On 19 August 1905, aged 79, Bouguereau died in La Rochelle from heart disease. There was an outpouring of grief in the town of his birth. After a Mass at the cathedral, his body was placed on a train to Paris for a second ceremony. Bouguereau was laid to rest with Nelly and his children at the family vault at Montparnasse Cemetery.

 

William-Adolphe Bouguereau Quotes:

 

  • For me a work of art must be an elevated interpretation of nature. The search for the ideal has been the purpose of my life. In landscape or seascape, I love above all the poetic motif.

  • One has to seek Beauty and Truth, Sir! As I always say to my pupils, you have to work to the finish. There's only one kind of painting. It is the painting that presents the eye with perfection, the kind of beautiful and impeccable enamel you find in Veronese and Titian.

  • One shouldn't believe in all those so-called innovations. There is only one nature and only one way to see it. Nowadays, they want to succeed too fast, this is how they go about inventing new aesthetics, pointillism, pipisme! All this is just to make noise.

  • Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the morning to come... if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable. (Adolfe-William Bouguereau)

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