Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Artist of the Month; William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Its time for another of the great French classical artists; William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Like many of his contemporaries, Bouguereau, a product of his time, was influenced by the Académie des beaux-arts, and the standards and expectations it set upon the artists of the period and his paintings perfectly reflect the soap bubble reality created by academic expectations of what 'good art' was. Looking back over Bouguereau's catalogue, one is confronted by a long series of quaint portraits of peasant girls, gypsy girls, nubile nymphs and half dressed biblical characters. They are all well painted, but seen as a body of work they are about 90% uninteresting. Its the remaining 10% that appeals to me, and why Bouguereau is my Artist of the Month. Escapism it may be, but in amongst the nymphs and naked flesh there is a glimpse of something greater than mere 'art'. Another world can be glimpsed, the world inside Bouguereau's imagination.

Since 'good art' is anything that inspires an emotional reaction in the viewer it was only a matter of time before the the academics at the Académie des beaux-arts lost their influence and artists began to rebel against convention. With time Bouguereau lost his fame, but although he was eclipsed by the impressionists and forgotten by the general public, he never lost his love of painting. Before he died, he completed 826 paintings. Today, Bouguereau is mostly famous for his paintings The Return of Spring and First Kiss which have been reproduced endlessly for public consumption.

I love figurative art, I love artists who use light effectively and I love fantasy, at least in the original sense of the word. In many of Bouguereau's paintings, these are combined and the results have a dream like quality that I just don't find in impressionism or any of the socio-industrial influenced artists that spread like rot over the course of the twentieth century.

Bouguereau may be old fashioned, but his work has something almost unique, some dated sense of otherness, what ever that elusive quality is, its hard to find in anything painted after 1900.


Cyan said...

I love William Bouguereau. The first of his images that I fell in love with is "La Gue." There's a lot of playfulness there, and I like her little pink feet.

When I was in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I went to the Getty, and I saw a Bouguereau painting in person. I honestly don't even remember which painting it was. I just remember catching my breath when looking at the amount of detail in his work.

moif said...

I didn't know La Gue, but its classic Bouguereau.

I came across a painting of a girl with a nose-gay once called 'The Olfaction'. I've spent years trying to find out who painted it, but it turns out a lot of classical painters painted a picture with that title. I guessed it was Bouguereau, but I've never found the image yet so I'm still looking.