William Bouguereau Popularity.

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  04 April 2005
the thing is he was basically a part of the old school that was swept away by the newer generation who shunned the academy (after the academy had shunned them innitially). the academy was seen as representative of basically frumpy, chocolate box, commercial art, the establishment which needed to be kicked down (and yes it did deserve this, it really was very much the old boys club at the time, maintaining a stranglehold on what art was, and who could be considered an artist).

art needed to move on because what was the point in continuing to try and do what the camera did so very much better? so art evolved away from the realism of artists like Bouguereau.

Personally i'm not very much into Bouguergeau, I find his work to be too sacharin and twee, rather like Murillo, though it's hard to deny either artists technical excellence.
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  04 April 2005
I have not read in depth about him, but what I gather from his lifespan (he died in 1905) generates his demise:
He was doing realism when photography was discovered. His paintings are amazing, but could not compete with the mindbogglement of instant imagery.
His contemporaries failed to notice him, he didn't get in the books etc.
Now that we a a fair distance and gotten used to photogeraphy, we look back at his paintings in awe of the technique.

I think it's part this very same photgraphy that gave a momentum to the new mouvements mentionned earlier.
Just a personal interpretation.

Another thing maybe: I find that History tend to remember more innovation than excellence. But this is based on no hard stats...
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Last edited by Marc-OlivierBouchard : 04 April 2005 at 08:31 PM.
  04 April 2005
Some of the info in this thread is possibly not right. Bouguereau produced a lot of work, hundreds of paintings (around 600-700), and was famous in his day, renowned, and wealthy from the sale of his work. He was a successful artist, and people in his time liked his work a lot.

This painting is really good and I've seen it in person at the N.C. Museum of Art:


The painting is the last one you see as you leave the 19th century collection, and every person stops in their tracks and stares at it, even the NASCAR-lovin' grandmas. It is technically perfect - a balance between complete understanding of form and light and painterly effects, one of them being a subtle outline around all of the figures, which is not photographic, but helps to place the figures in space.

Bouguereau and all of the classical academic painters were pushed aside for modern art. He wasn't alone. Jean-Léon Gérôme is another excellent painter from that period that had the same technical skill, but, imo, painted more interesting subject matter than Bouguereau. We didn't study either artist at all in school because we were taught that Matisse and Picasso were more important. Historically speaking, modern art (Bauhaus, Constructivist, etc) was a lot more important and influential in the contemporary world than Bouguereau, so I guess the teachers were right. But still, the disrespect for classicism by modernists really does an injustice to history.

Here are some of Gerome's works, which are a little more picturesque and interesting, imo:




In comparing the two, who do you think is better, in terms of interesting work? There were many good artists back then. I don't think Bouguereau is the best. Of course he is the best compared to our time for his technical skill, but back then the academic tradition was still going strong and everyone was really good. That time period left us with Degas, Manet, and Monet. Before them came David and Ingres, both of whom were better technically than Bouguereau. So those guys are a hard act to follow.

For an artist to be historically relevant (i.e. popular with historians), he has to be one of the leaders or defining artists in a particular style of art. Bouguereau didn't do that - he followed where others led. During that time other art movements occurred like Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Pre-Raphaelites, Orientalists, etc, that just get more attention from historians because they are entirely new styles of art, and the artists that created those styles just deserve more attention and study.

Of course, all this is based on my limited understanding, but some of it is probably close to the truth.
  04 April 2005
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