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Bouguereau or eclectic academicism...

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) studied at the age of twenty, with the painter François-Édouard Picot after settling in Paris. Admitted to the Royal School of Fine Arts, he won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1850.

A worthy defender of a well-polished academicism, he vigorously opposed the admission of the Impressionists to the official Salon. The one of whom Louis-Edmond Duranty said "his nymphs like his virgins never lose their character as a teacher in her bath or a nun in charge of pharmacy" will experience phenomenal success in France and abroad.

Spotlight on three paintings by William Bouguereau sold at auction since 2008.

William Bouguereau. A la fontaine. 1897.
William Bouguereau. A la fontaine. 1897. Vendu par Sotheby's NYC en 2011.

William Bouguereau's paintings betray a very fine observation of anatomy, an almost obsessive concern for composition and the use of a color palette dominated by green, ocher and gray tones. The critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary will write, in a very abrupt way: "Wax, glass, apple sugar, I don't know, but it seems to me that, looked at for a long time, this painting would give nausea".

William Bouguereau. Le déjeuner du matin. 1887
William Bouguereau. Le déjeuner du matin. 1887. Vendu par Sotheby's NYC en 2008.

William Bouguereau also had his admirers, who praised 'his holy horror of coarse trivialities... and of that hideous realism by which certain people unworthy of the name of artists (*) would have liked to dishonor French art'.

(*) the Impressionists, for example (ed.)

William Bouguereau. Marchande de grenades. 1875
William Bouguereau. Marchande de grenades. 1875 . Vendu par Christie's NYC en 2012.

Edgar Degas and his friends will not fail to make William Bouguereau one of their favorite whipping boys. They will even invent the neologism "Bouguereauté", to designate an arch-licked painting. William Bouguereau's intransigence was such that the Society of French Artists experienced a real split in 1890, giving birth to the National Society of Fine Arts. The latter organizes its competing salon at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in the Champs de Mars.

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century.


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