William-Adolphe Bouguereau : Return from the Harvest

November 4, 2012 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

One of the more distinguished pieces in The Cummer's permanent collection is, Return from the Harvest by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This painting was commissioned by Alexander T. Stewart, a wealthy American department store owner of Irish descent, who stipulated that "the painting was to be the artist's greatest work and not a nude subject." Read more about the notably nudeless masterpiece after the jump!

Unfortunately, Stewart died before Bouguereau could finish this much admired painting. The donkey ride, featured prominently in this painting, offers Bouguereau the opportunity to show his astounding technical skills and classical learning in the representation of an age-old harvest festival. The child riding the donkey is playing the role of the Roman god Bacchus, accompanied by joyful peasants. Additionally, the theme of this painting carries Biblical allusions whereby the child is identified as the young Christ. Bouguereau was a staunch traditionalist whose realistic genre paintings and mythological themes were modern interpretations of Classical subjects-both pagan and Christian-with a heavy concentration on the female human body.

In his own time, Bouguereau was considered to be one of the greatest painters in the world by the Academic art community, and simultaneously he was reviled by the avant-garde. By 1920, Bouguereau fell into disrepute, due in part to changing tastes and partly to his staunch opposition to the Impressionists who were finally gaining acceptance. There was little to no mention of Borguereau until the late 1900s. During this time a renewal of interest in Borguereau’s work began after various museums decided to start exhibiting his art. Today, over one hundred museums throughout the world exhibit Bouguereau's works. Bouguereau expressed his love of art, "Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable".
William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born in France in 1825, to a family of wine and olive oil merchants. Bouguereau showed artistic talent at an early age. After a strict academic training as a painter at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Bouguereau was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1850. This prize enabled him to move to Rome, where he industriously studied and copied the Italian masters. Four years later, Bouguereau returned to Paris. His extraordinary success as a painter, combined with his influence as a teacher, make him one of the masters of nineteenth-century academic painting. As a prominent juror, Bouguereau also exerted decisive influence over the annual Paris Salon, keeping it within the bounds of official academicism and systematically rejecting the experimental painting of Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and the Impressionists.