May 19, 2011

Bouguereau x 2 Week - "The Oreades" and "The Harvester"

On this Day in the History of Art: Jacob Jordaens born (1593), Nathaniel Hawthorne died (1864), Oscar Wilde released from prison (1893)

This is the last day for Bouguereau week--apologies for the delays in posting! Today I am posting two images of Bouguereau’s work, one piece that I don't like and one that I do.

Nationality: French
Born-Died: 1825-1905

The Oreades

Creation Date: 1902
Media: Oil on canvas

To me, this painting is an absurd farce and almost all of these figures look like they were painted from sketches of women that were lying down. Once again, this is a cheap trick available to painters that is difficult to swing without making the figures appear stiff. The figure at the very top of the floating wave of bodies is not anatomically correct and I suspect this is what happened when Bouguereau momentarily abandoned his camera lucida. The subject here is intended to be part of a ring of fairies, which I imagine was a mildly entertaining fantastical idea that was popular at the time.

The Harvester

Creation Date: 1868
Media: Oil on canvas
Size: 33.5 x 42 in. (85 x 106.5 cm)
Location: Private collection

On the other hand, this painting is fantastic. I particularly love the brilliant lighting, the subtle shadows on the figure and the delicate poses of the hands. The grasses on the right appear too close to the figure and I get the impression that this painting, like many of the previous posts, was also made by posing a live model in front of a painted background, but it's not terribly distracting.

This is the kind of painting that advocates of what Ayn Rand called "Naturalism" (often simply called "Realism" [capital "R"] in the arts industry) and Modernism love to criticize Bouguereau for, but the criticism is not appropriate. They say, "life wasn't like that" in so many ways, but artists are not and never have been under any kind of obligation to present life in any particular way.

In Sum:

Overall, this week was very educational and fun for me and I hope you enjoyed it as well. After looking at so many works by
Bouguereau I thought I would be able to say with more certainty whether I liked or disliked his work, but I still feel very mixed about it. I will say that I don't dislike that many of his pieces, and that I like and feel neutral about the rest in a 50/50 split.


  1. I get it was meant to be a ring of fairies -- it looks like a tornado swept up a collection of bathing women.

  2. Thank you for this blog, it's is very valuable for me to see how one can judge the aesthetics and philosophy of a piece of art.