THE LOST LOVE OF WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU January 07 2018
I recently did an experiment. For two weeks I asked everyone who walked into my gallery if they had heard of the artist William Adolphe Bouguereau (pronounced Boo-ger-oh, with a hard “g”). Every single person looked at me blankly and shook their head.
Ask anyone who Picasso is and unless they’re under 5 years old you’ll get an answer. In fact ask the average person about any of the Modernists or Impressionists (Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Renoir) and chances are most people will have heard of these artists and even seen a picture of their work. Not so with Bouguereau.
I’m having a love affair with William B. and his paintings. I can’t say exactly when it started but it was his painting "L'Aurore" that did it (below). From that moment, a deep groove formed which would run my creative flow towards rendering the female flesh with the same delicacy, perfection, impeccable beauty and profound sensitivity.
L’AURORE (Dawn) ~ William Bouguereau / Oil on canvas / 1881
Up until as recently as a decade ago, Bouguereau was hardly known. In fact history books were reluctant to document his works or anything much about his personal life. He was an old school “academic” in the late 19th century, sticking to his guns in the face of a tide of a new wave of artists making their presence felt in Paris at that time. I use the term academic in inverted commas because while he was a learned technician, theoretician and teacher, he was also a prolific painter and producer.
This new wave of artists like Renoir and Monet set about disparaging Bouguereau’s name in order to promote their own work, and managed to carry with them the art dealers, art fans and historians of the day. They even coined the verb “Bouguerise” to denigrate all paintings meticulously rendered in a neo-classical style with their typically mythological and allegorical narratives.
For years I searched for a book on William and his work but there was nothing. How could that be? He’d not only been the head of Paris Salon in the late 18th century but also hailed as one of the greatest painters of all time by his neoclassical peers.
When I arrived at the Florence Academy of Art in 2016 to start my study of classical technique it was immediately apparent that Bouguereau was the star by which we set our course. It was also understood by students and teachers alike that it would be impossible to ever attain comparable skill, but, impossible has never stopped me.
“Art history is a profound teacher. To achieve mastery one only has to tap into the Greats who have gone before us and surrender to their counsel. Their creative spirits still exist." ~Catherine Abel
My Art Deco influences are fading away fast these days… Interestingly, as I’m moving forward in my career, I’m going back in time. I’m hungry for Art Nouveau, Neoclassicism, anything Arts & Craft. Without really having a plan I’m striving for perfection, letting what inspires me speak and listening closely to those directions. Letting go of expectation, yet expecting everything.
Attending the Florence Academy of Art changed everything for me. I became enlightened to a way of thinking and painting that I thought was lost, neglected in today’s sterile world, cast aside as useless and unnecessary. I found a community in Florence and from the moment I left that city, I’ve craved to return.
As fate would have it, the Angel Academy of Art, also located in Florence, are offering a mid year painting intensive on the techniques of Bouguereau. I’ve put down my deposit, I’m working hard, I’m going. They only take 5 students. I can't wait!
I haven’t seen L’Aurore in real life, and I’ll never get to meet William B., but I hope to see her in the flesh one day soon (at the Birmingham Museum) and personally thank her for leading me into the next part of this adventure.