Born in La Rochelle, France, William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905) began his studies in 1838 with Louis Sage, a student of renowned Romantic painter Ingres. After moving to Bordeaux in 1842, the artist attended the cole Municipale de Dessin et de Peinture in Bordeaux.
Bouguereau gained local acclaim as a talented portrait painter before going to Paris in 1846 to attend cole des Beaux Arts, noted for its traditional academic approach to painting. In 1850 Bougereau was awarded the coveted Prix de Rome and spent four years at the Villa Medici studying Classical and Renaissance masterpieces. The potent influence of Classical works is readily apparent in works dating after this period.
Bouguereau blended classical poses and subject matter with his own romanticized realism rendered in the highly finished style that would come to characterize his paintings. During the 1870s Bouguereau’s focus shifted from historical and genre scenes to lighter, lyrical mythological subjects. Highly regarded by his contemporaries, Bouguereau was awarded numerous state commissions and, at the height of his career, taught at the Academie Julian and the cole des Beaux Arts.
Throughout his lifetime, Bouguereau staunchly defended the academic tradition of painting and was viewed as an obstructionist by the new generation of painters who were experimenting with Impressionism. While immensely popular during his lifetime, Bouguereau’s reputation suffered with the advent of the modernists who viewed his work as mediocre and overly sentimental. Recent exhibitions have focused attention on the contribution of mid-19th century artists and Bouguereau’s work has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.
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