William Bouguereau, a world-renowned painter, lived from 1825 to 1905. At the time, his paintings were considered far too idealistic to be grouped seriously into the realist category. Most art historians now consider him a romantic realist. His work combines elements of neo-classicism, impressionism, romanticism and realism. The combination of these different styles has led some to identify him as the first true photo-idealist. Bouguereau was most famous for creating photographic like images of scenes brought from history, fantasy and literature, with an emphasis on the female form.
Common Critiques of Bouguereau
Many prominent critics claimed that Bouguereau’s paintings have little relationship to the realities of his time. Critics claim that Bouguereau’s paintings did not seek to explain, describe or critique the political, social or cultural realities of 19th-century France. Proponents of Bouguereau would claim he simply wished to transcend the harshness of the realities of his time by utilizing romanticized images of history, fantasy and literature. There is also the claim that Bouguereau’s idealized paintings romanticize certain subject matters to an extreme, most prominently noting the French peasant. Despite all this, though, Bouguereau went on to become a financially successful painter during a time that was not used to giving prominence to the abstract ideas of his paintings, a testament to his innate artistic skills.
Bouguereau’s Painting Process
Bouguereau believed that the quality of all paintings could be logically deduced by judging them on four independent measures including: composition, drawing, color harmony and expression. The actual process of creating a finished painting followed six distinct steps, which included croquis and tracings, oil sketches, highly finished drawings, detailed studies in oils for heads, hands, etc., cartoon, and then the finished product. Each different step was responsible for elucidating a certain element. Shading, for example, he believed to be of fundamental importance to the quality of the painting. Bouguereau often painted nude models, but when he did paint clothed models, he world work endlessly with mannequins until he found a certain form of the fabric that adequately displayed the underlying forms.
Notes on Bouguereau
Bouguereau is well known for his painting process and the paintings he produced. He made last-minute changes to almost all his paintings. This was done in spite of the fact that his underlying sketches were unalterable. This was likely because Bouguereau, like many artists, was a perfectionist who, in his mind, could never seem to get things just right. He was also a notorious workaholic. He would wake up, have breakfast and begin working immediately afterward. This work would continue, without breaks, until he was ready to sleep.
- Bouguereau’s Photo-Idealism; Michael Gibson; 1984.