Rethinking William Bouguereau

“In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau and his American Students,” Frick Art & Historical Center through Oct. 7. Originally curated by the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Sept. 17-Dec. 31, 2006. Also installed at the Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, Florida, Feb. 9-Apr. 29, 2007. Artists include: Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), Minerva Chapman (1858-1947), Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936), Elizabeth Gardner (1837-1922), Robert Henri (1865-1929), and Anna Klumpke (1856-1942).

Mark Roth reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Bouguereau’s fame was cut short by the arrival of Impressionism: “More than 100 years after his death, Bouguereau can still provoke diametrically opposed views. Either he was the one of the finest oil painters of all time, or he was an unimaginative, sentimental portrayer of hackneyed themes….The Impressionists and other modern artists took center stage, leaving academic lions such as Bouguereau and Englishman Sir Lawrence Alda-Tadema in the wings. The denigration of Bouguereau’s reputation began not long after his death in 1905. In a history of modern painting two years later, German critic Richard Muther wrote: ‘William Bouguereau, who industriously learnt all that can be assimilated by a man destitute of artistic feeling but possessing a cultured taste, reveals even more clearly in his feeble mawkishness, the fatal decline of the old schools of convention …'”Read more.

Kurt Shaw in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review focuses on the perfectionism in Bouguereau’s work: “A prolific perfectionist, Bouguereau created more than 800 paintings in his lifetime, all nearly as perfect as the next. ‘He is so technically skilled on every level,’ Frick curator Sarah Hall says. ‘When you look at his work you can see the underpinnings of academic drawing, this great line quality. He’s known as a master of hands and feet, and he shows (this skill) off….But as visitors will see, Bouguereau’s influence can be seen in all his students. With an eye on beauty and a hand trained to perfection, he guided them to an ideal in which exquisite drawing, refined forms and the perfection of human anatomy come into focus as a stunning achievement.'” Read more.

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