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William Adolphe Bouguereau

 (1825 - 1905)
William Adolphe Bouguereau was active/lived in France, Italy.  William Bouguereau is known for figural, realist style genre and mythology painting, teaching.

William Adolphe Bouguereau

    BOO-ge-roe  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for William Adolphe Bouguereau

William Adolphe Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, France in 1825.  When he was very young, he was sent to school at Pons where he showed his aptness for drawing.  When older he was sent to Bordeaux to a business house, but attended art school for a couple of hours each day.  He won a prize over all the daily art students and decided to become a painter.

First he went to his uncle, a priest in Saintouge, for instruction and painted portraits of people of that region. He then went to France, entering the studio of Picot and later l'Ecole des Beaux Arts where he made rapid progress.  He won the grand prize in 1850, then went to Rome where he proved to be also a good decorative and mural painter.  He was criticized for his pretty faces and conventional execution, but had a delightful charming approach, accurate drawing knowledge, taste and refinement.  He became a member of the institute and an Officer of the Legion of Honour.   

Tastes change and eventually Bouguereau's art was treated as schlock and was despised and rejected. Unlike Expressionism, Cubism and Abstraction, which became the "right art", it was considered glossy sentimentality, pious and prurient, and was thought of as "wrong art."  Then suddenly, conditions changed and Bouguereau was shown with Eakins, Homer, Cole, Bingham and West.  It reached the point where prices for his paintings reached millions because the demand for his works was immensely strong.   

Bouguereau was an instructor at the Academie Julian in Paris and among his pupils was a young woman named Elizabeth (Eliza) Gardner.  They became engaged in 1879, when he was fifty-four and she was forty-two.  Bouguereau's elderly mother opposed the match for several reasons, including that she thought it would have been impossible for two artists to sustain separate, successful painting careers in one marriage.  Consequently the engagement lasted seventeen years; they did not marry until Bouguereau's mother died in 1896.  Gardner gave up her career to care for Bouguereau until his death  in 1905 and then returned to painting.   

Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:   
National Museum of Women in the Arts catalogue   
Newsweek Magazine, November 4, 1974   
From the internet,

Biography from Anderson Galleries, Inc.
Biography photo for William Adolphe Bouguereau
Regarded today as one of the most important exponents of official Salon painting of the Second Empire, William Bouguereau once described himself as "an idealist" who saw "only the beautiful in art."

Bouguereau was born in 1825 in La Rochelle, France.  He moved with his family to Saint-Martin on the ne de Re in 1832, and there, while attending primary school, he developed a serious interest in drawing.   Later, as a college student at Pons, Bouguereau received his first formal art instruction.  His teacher, a M. Sage, who had studied under Jean-Auguste Ingres, instilled in his pupil a respect for the principles of sound draftsmanship that he would retain throughout the course of his career.

Around 1841, Bouguereau was sent to Bordeaux to assist with matters pertaining to the family's olive-oil business.  However, the young man's artistic aspirations were still very much in evidence.   Through the assistance of a family friend, Bouguereau enrolled in part-time classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Bordeaux. Two years later he was awarded the first prize in figure painting.  Bouguereau subsequently received his father's permission to study art in Paris. He arrived in the French capitol in 1846 and immediately enrolled in the atelier of Francois-Edouard Picot, one of the most eminent teachers of the day.  After only two months with Picot, Bougeureau was accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  During these years, when not in the studio, Bouguereau spent his time in the Louvre, studying the art of ancient Greece and Rome, and visiting the architectural monuments of Paris.

Although Bouguereau fought in the Garde Nationale during the Revolution of 1848, his military activity made no real disruption in his studies.  During that same year, he was awarded second prize in the prestigious Prix de Rome competition.  In 1850 he won the first prize, allowing him to spend the next four years in Italy. Settling in Rome, Bouguereau continued his study of the antique as well as the art of the High Renaissance.   Returning to Paris in 1854, Bouguereau embarked on what would become an outstanding career as a painter and teacher.

His work, dealing with religious, classical and peasant themes, infused with a heightened sense of emotion, was considered a high point of the annual Salons. A technical virtuoso, Bouguereau's mature style was characterized by an emphasis on high finish, clear, unified lighting and idealized forms.  These principles were passed on to his students at the Academie Julian, where Bouguereau taught for many years.

Among his many American pupils was Elizabeth Jane Gardner of Exeter, New Hampshire, whom he married in 1896 after a lengthy courtship.  In addition to winning numerous medals and awards, Bouguereau was elected to the lnstitut de France in 1876 and was made a Grand Officer in the Legion of Honour in 1903.

Museum Collections Include:
Musée du Louvre, Paris; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Nelson Atkins Museum of Fine Art, Kansas City; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA

Biography from Heritage Auctions
Biography photo for William Adolphe Bouguereau
Arguably the most influential French academic painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, an exhibitor at the Paris Salon and instructor at the Académie Julian for decades, applied classical compositional tenets to his portraits and mythological, religious, and genre paintings. Born in La Rochelle into a family of wine and oil merchants, he first learned classical and Biblical stories from his uncle, a Roman Catholic priest who arranged for him to paint portraits of parishioners; with earnings from these commissions, Bouguereau was able to enroll at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts in the studio of François-Édouard Picot. His mastery here of the academic style, which emphasized idealized forms and historical and mythological subjects, ensured his winning of the coveted Prix de Rome in 1850 with Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes.

Employing traditional painting methods, including detailed pencil studies and oil sketches, Bouguereau became a master renderer of the human form. His portraits of women were considered particularly charming because they beautified the sitter while simultaneously retaining her likeness. Likewise, his mythological and genre paintings, in coupling photo-realistic detail with idealized subjects, appealed to wealthy art patrons. Bouguereau was also an exceptional genre painter of tender mothers and children and of young girls. Most of his genre paintings were executed in his La Rochelle studio and adjoining garden

Always unpretentious, Bouguereau became one of the most decorated artists of the 19th century, receiving medals from the Paris Salons and the Expositions Universelles and successive ranks in the Légion d'honneur. In addition, he was the leading member of the Institute of France and the president of the Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. In 1896, at the age of 71, Bouguereau achieved another "honor": he married one of his students, Elizabeth Gardner, whose paintings showed the strong influence of her teacher. They continued to maintain a workshop and residence at rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, #75.

While Bouguereau's academic works fell out of favor during the early 20th century as modernism held center stage, by the 1970s and '80s, they had regained popularity thanks to major exhibitions in New York, Montreal, and Paris. Critics now praised Bouguereau for having remained true to his academic roots and dominated the traditional salons and academies of the Third Republic. In particular, his paintings became immensely popular in the United States, as evidenced by their representation in numerous important public and private collections.

Museums (partial list of the around 100) with Bouguereau's paintings include the Musée du Louvre, Paris; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC
"In painting, I'm an idealist. I see only the beautiful in art and, for me, art is the beautiful. Why reproduce what is ugly in nature? I don't see why it should be necessary." William Bouguereau.

William Bouguereau was born in the Rue du Duc in La Rochelle. He showed talent in drawing from an early age and studied under Louis Sage who himself had trained under Ingres. In 1846, after winning first prize in a figure painting competition in Bordeaux, Bouguereau travelled to Paris and entered the atelier of François Picot. He greatly respected Picot calling himself 'élève de Picot' for his entire career. His early work mainly consisted of the production of académies (cast drawings and pencil life studies) and to studies of anatomy and perspective.

In 1848 Bouguereau joined the National Guard to fight on the side of the monarchy. His painting, 'Equality' (1848) refers specifically to the revolution, yet no other painting deals with troubled times as in this work, Bouguereau preferring more settled times in which to work. In 1850 with the painting 'Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Shore of the Araxes' (1850) Bouguereau won a three year fellowship at the Villa Medici. He travelled widely around Italy painting many landscapes which were to inform many of his later genre paintings.

After completing his 'Triumph of the Martyr: The Body of Saint Cecilia Brought into the Catacombs' (1854), Bouguereau returned to Bordeaux. He soon received a number of commissions, including 'Napoleon III visiting the Flood Victims of Tarascon' (1856). Three years later after getting married and becoming a father, Bouguereau began the production of genre paintings to be marketed first by the Durand-Ruel Gallery and later on by Goupil.

Bouguereau's paintings at this point became more naturalistic, though retaining their tone of idealism. Bouguereau took part in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and, upon returning to his artistic pursuits was elected to the Académie des Beaux Arts de l'Institute de France in 1876. In 1888 he was named Professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and became one of the most influential teachers at the school.

Biography from Schiller & Bodo European Paintings
Biography photo for William Adolphe Bouguereau
William A. Bouguereau was born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle and died August 19, 1905 in the same village.  He spent much of his youth with an uncle who was a nearby parish priest.  This uncle not only gave Bouguereau a religious education but encouraged his interest in the arts and arranged for him to receive lessons at the college at Pons from a former student of Ingres.  He went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; his first Salon showing was in 1849, and the next year he won the Prix de Rome.

Unpretentious and modest, he became one of the most decorated artists of the nineteenth century.  Bouguereau received medals from the Salons and the Universal Expositions, and successive ranks in the Legion of Honor.  He was the leading member of the Institute of France and President of the Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers.

Bouguereau's reputation as a painter of mythologies does injustice to the painter of tender mothers, children and young girls.  Most of the genre paintings were executed at his birth place, La Rochelle, in the garden adjoining his studio.

In 1896, at the age of 71, he married an American art student, Elizabeth Gardner.  Her painting's show the strong influence of her master.  Gardner clearly adopted the style and technique of her mentor.  In an oft-quoted remark, she frankly revealed, "I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody." For some persons, to be the best imitator of Bouguereau was a high compliment.  He was, and still is, considered to be the best Academic artist of his time.

Bouguereau's paintings were attuned to the sensibilities of his public, and he never deviated from the basic tenets of his Academic training.  He was one of the artists who dominated the Salons of the Third Republic and the Academies. He became the last champion of a dying tradition.  He was immensely popular in America during the beginning of the 20th century and is highly sought after by current collectors.

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About  William Adolphe Bouguereau

Born:  1825 - La Rochelle, France
Died:   1905 - La Rochelle, France
Known for:  figural, realist style genre and mythology painting, teaching