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William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)

Also known as:  Adolphe William Bouguereau; Bouguereau, Adolphe William; Bouguereau, Adolphe-William; William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Birth Place: La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes, France)

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.
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