Wednesday, October 13, 2010
William-Adolphe Bouguereau - two paintings
[LE CRABE ]
signed W-BOUGUEREAU and dated 1869 (lower left)
oil on canvas
32 by 25 3/4 in.
81.3 by 65.4 cm
ESTIMATE 700,000 - 1,000,000 USD
Goupil et Cie., Paris (acquired directly from the artist, October 16, 1869, no. 4515)
M. Rooquard van der Ham, Soeterik, The Hague (acquired from the above, February 1870)
Damien Bartoli with Frederick Ross, William Bouguereau Catalogue Raisonné, Woodbrige, Suffolk, (forthcoming),
vol. I, no. 1869/12, pl. 292, illustrated; vol. II, p. 118, illustrated
During his lifetime, William Bouguereau enjoyed an extraordinary level of commercial success, garnering dozens of wealthy patrons and devoted followers. This success was due in part to his exceptional skill as a draftsman and painter, but was also the product of his awareness of the popular tastes of the art buying public. In the 1850s, Bouguereau, at the encouragement of his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, made the fortuitous decision to shift his choice of subjects, away from large religious commissions and toward the type of image easily consumed by his wealthy collectors. In particular, he embraced the late nineteenth century fascination with peasant life, focusing on beautiful young girls depicted in the countryside. The world he presented, however, was far rosier than the harsh realities endured by those dwelling outside the city. Fronia Wissman writes: "Bouguereau and the well-to-do collectors who acquired his paintings preferred to see these children as picturesque outsiders, facts of daily life perhaps, but poignant rather than threatening" (Bouguereau, San Francisco, 1996, p. 51). Social accuracy was not Bouguereau's concern; instead his paintings demonstrate his profound skill and suggest timeless ideals of simplicity and wholesomeness, even innocence. In Le Crabe, painted between 1868 and 1869, Bouguereau shows a young fisher girl casually playing with a small black crab. Unlike Bouguereau's later paintings of peasant girls who confront the viewer with their arresting gazes, the child here is wholly occupied with toying with the small creature, unaware of any audience. Her strikingly lifelike hair falls upon her shoulders, also a variation from the majority of his subjects with their upswept locks. Like all of his peasant children, however, the young girl is depicted barefoot, her perfectly painted, unsoiled feet free from any signs of work or wear, symbols of her idealized existence.
Le Crabe is rare in Bouguereau's body of work, featuring a vast coastal scene behind his more well-known imagery of the young peasant girl. The atmospheric beauty of the background showcases the artist's skills as a painter; his use of light and shadow accurately captures the dramatic recession into space. Bouguereau was likely inspired by the landscape of Brittany (possibly by the streams of Fouesnant) where he regularly spent the summer months from 1866 until the war of 1870. The model for the young girl is Emilienne Cesil-Biegler, the daughter of Bouguereau's housekeeper at the time.
[LE BRUIT DE LA MER ]
signed W-BOUGUEREAU and dated 1871 (upper left)
oil on canvas
32 3/4 by 21 1/2 in.
83.1 by 54.6 cm
ESTIMATE 150,000 - 200,000 USD
Goupil &Cie, Paris (no. 5789, acquired directly from the artist on September 30, 1871
as Le coquillage)
Henry Wallis, London (acquired from the above on October 13, 1871)
While Bouguereau is most well-known for his sensitive portrayals of peasant girls at
work in fields or at rest on rocky benches, rarer, equally impressive compositions depict well-dressed children in finely appointed interiors. Works like Le Bruit de Mer hold clues in costume design and decorative objects that link the painting with Bouguereau's contemporary world--yet demonstrate the same artistic brilliance and thematic strength of the artists' rural subjects. In the present work, and its compositional pendant La Coquillage (Fig. 1), a young, blond model, hair held back by a burgundy band, wears a well-tailored dress, holding seashells. While in La Coquillage the model is accompanied by her mother, the young girl of Le Bruit de Mer stands alone, following the artist's traditional motif of children who are complete unto themselves, with a life independent of the adult world. Indeed, Bouguereau simplifies the dark background to a heavy hanging curtain and brocade-covered table. Bouguereau directs the viewer's eye to the girl's pink complexion and small hands through the use of contrasting tones and shapes (crisp white sleeves, the curving collar of her gray-blue petticoat). The present work, as with all of Bouguereau's best paintings, renders the model with naturalistic flare: her eyes unfocused, mouth slightly open to suggest her focused attention on the crashing sound of the sea made by the glossy shell held to her ear. And like the heavy jugs or sheaves of wheat so symbolic to Bouguereau's peasant children, in Le Bruit de Mer the precious shells are important clues to this girl's life. The rage for shell collecting began in the in the eighteenth century and continued well into the nineteenth century as further exploration and colonialism through the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Africa brought troves of natural treasures back to Europe. By the 1850s, collecting societies were formed across the Netherlands, England and France, with traordinarily high prices paid for particularly perfect examples. Both an exotic and expensive object, the shells provide another opportunity to express Bouguereau's virtuosity in detailing the color variations of a leopard-spotted shell, its high sheen reflecting a sunny window in its surface, and the subtle peach and pink interior of the heart-shaped specimen held out to the viewer.
FIG.1: WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU,
LA COQUILLAGE (1871, OIL ON
CANVAS, 51-1/2 BY 35-1/4 IN.;
130.8 BY 89.5 CM, PRIVATE
at 11:12 AM