William Bouguereau Popularity.


It seems to be William Bouguereau is not all that popular considering the awesome photographic quality of his work

Why is that.

When i go to library, there are hundreds of books on Cezar, Picasso, Rembrant etc etc but not one book focused solely on Bouguereau.
Even the internet. Some major art websites dont have anything on him.

And you hardly hear about him in popular socirty chit chats. All we study in high school boring art classes is Picasso. Pffft

Bouguereau was the one who inspired me to love and do art. And from that i went to on to appreciate other art styles.

I dont think his getting the Recognition he deserves.

What do you think?


Honestly I had to google him to find out who he was; nevertheless I recognized much of his work. He was an absolutely amazing painter. To answer your question as to why he seems to be a lesser known artist, look here:

Bio Page

Lots of good info on who he was. It didnt seem at all back then that he was a lesser known artist. According to the link, people were on wait lists to get one of his paintings. However, after skimming some of it and noticing that he was a teacher to Mattise, the Expressionist painter, one possible solution as to why he is lesser known today is that his painting style could be overshadowed by the expressionist and impressionist movements, which were occuring during his lifetime.

The link explains more, but this is just one link. I would look for other sources as well.



>>>Honestly I had to google him to find out who he was; nevertheless I recognized much of his work.<<<

hehehe my point exactly!!


I don’t know too much about him, but I did get the impression from things that I read that he was in a way the end of an era - a great painter but in a style that had become aged. Added to that, towards the end of his career there were a lot of new and exciting things going on in the art world that possibly overshadowed him.

Victorian-era art though strikes me as an odd batch. I never paid it great heed and much of it seemed like romantic flimmery. I do like Richard Dadd though :slight_smile:


I hope you don´t think i´m talking about taste here. I´m talking about the art history as it´s studied today.

Bouguereau is a Neoclassicist painter, and receveid a lot of recognition in life. But at the time he was alive and working, a lot of french artists were exploring the techniques and aproaches of a new art genre, and those guys had almost no recognition in life.

The fact that makes relationship with your question and what i said above is that, neoclacic painters were doing something that were made from a long time till that moment, and those others artists were making something totally new. Those were the ones who really influenced all the art style from then on, and that´s why we hear today, a lot more about Gauguin, Matisse, Cézanne and Picasso than Bouguereau, David and others.

There´s no doubt they were all very talented artists, but their importance to the art history from the end of the XIX century and then on is “ofuscated” by the influence of the new art that were created at that time. By the way, we can´t say the same about DaVinci, Rafael and others that came first, because they were doing something “new”.

Got it?


Go to artrenewal.org and they have tons of articles about Bouguereau, and why he was purposely erased from art history by the modernists. The attitude at artrenewal is a bit too militant, but you can get an indepth history lesson there about the whole ordeal (although it might be biased).

I grew up wondering the same thing. When I was about 14, I scoured the art history books for Bouguereau after seeing his “Nymphes et Satyre” once. I couldn’t believe that such an extraordinary painter didn’t exist in most of these art history books, or only had a very short mention and no pictures of his works. As I got older and learned more about art history, I realized that history is not a reliable thing. Fear, jealousy, and contempt could erase someone from history.

As I got older, I preferred the more impressionist-influenced painters like Sargent, Zorn, Sorolla…etc, but I still respect Bouguereau for his technique.


I’d have to say that it is a pity to view such art style as aged, the composition is beyond belief…I thnk I have someone new to aspire to(got tired of michaelangelo’s wide-waisted figures…)


It is hard to say what made the swing from the ‘finished’ paintings of former years to the impressionist works. I am a skeptic so I would say that the following are big factors:

The invention of the paint tube and the easy availability of painting as a hobby to the increasing number of middle classes.

The opening up of the art market to a flurishing Bourgeoisie with cash to spend

The pressure that was put on people to produce art at speed.

Bouguereau was famed for the fact that he didn’t like to rush paintings out, he wanted them to be good works of art. This is not necesseraly condusive to a good art career (particularly nowerdays).

With the opening up of the art market and the popular press, painters could be more savy about their marketing rather than have to rely upon getting good. Gauguin for example would make the claim that he was close to death so that his paintings would be sold for more.

You also have the fact that art was being sold to the ignorant. For example, Renoir made attempts to portrey the look of coloured light on skin. He was not always successfull and there is the famouse example of a girl lit by light from the grass which made her look like a corpse. People said “but can’t you see that he is being clever in realising the importance of reflected light”. What they didn’t realise is that reflected light had been a part of the vocabulary of the old masters for hundreds of years but was done in such a way that people didn’t notice. But you can’t sell things that people don’t notice.

There was also a move away from narrative which is still taboo in many art schools. I was never given a good ARTISTIC reason why this is the case. I have come to realise that it is because people don’t like having honest and difficult subject matter on their wall and it generaly doesn’t sell too well.

In short. MONEY (and wealth) has been a huge driving force in art through its entire history and art changes when markets change.

Nowerdays the people making money and looking to decorate their houses are largely IT proffesionals. This is fortunate as many of them were raised on the kinds of art (including computer games) that I was.

With the invention of computers, artists can more easily get the kind of control that great oil painters had over oil paint. I have pretty much mastered oil paint - I control it rather than it controlling me - this is quite rare. However, I prefer computers in many ways for producing the kind of work that people like Bouguereau made.

On to the future…


It seems that the poor Bouguereau was painting at the wrong time. He was admired during his life as a brilliant painter but later, when the impressionists, cubists, fauves became suddenly famous, they eclipsed other ‘classical’ painters from the same period.

Enthousiasm was so strong for this new art that more visually realistic work, was declared old-fashioned. Everyone knows about impressionists, Van Gogh, the painting pop-stars… knowing about others like Bouguereau shows a better knowledge of art


Just to let you know, there is one book on Bouguereau on Amazon. I actually have at this book for a while. Its not the thickess book, nor the most in depth book compared to many art history books, however its does have enough about him and his life and many of the picture are in colour.


Also, funny we are talking about his popularity. I always found that his art work, along with Waterhouse and Klimt were very popular in poster form. I know this is not the same thing as what happened during his life time and in the art world. But the fact that the images are out there now and being spread around for people to discover is amazing after all this time.


I have the same book as Animation Angel, and it’s really wonderful. I highly recommend it, if you’re into Bouguereau. As for Bouguereau’s popularity, John Keates summed up a lot of the reasons. To paraphrase my own understanding of the situation in addition, it seemed to me like he was pretty much brushed aside as a period equivalent of a “cheesecake artist.” Years from now when you see history books on period art about the latter half of the 20th century, chances are you won’t see names like Olivia, Nagel, Mel Ramos, and many others whom you could fill in mentioned there. I kind of feel that folks thought the same way about Bouguereau.

That being said, I still love his art and his wonderfully expressive portraits of women. :slight_smile:


p.s. just for laughs: A portrait of playboy artist Dean Yeagle’s character Mandy, done in Bouguereau’s style. (And yes, Dean’s seen it, he actually started the thread on another board suggesting people draw Mandy in different artists’ styles. This was my contibution.)


When I was a kid, there was an exposition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts about Bouguereau. I was too young to go and my parents were not big fans, however, I remember the large posters announcing the exhibit, reproducing his “Enlèvement de Psyché”. I was in awe with the picture, and knew then that I wanted to learn how to draw. I think I’m not the only one; it is the effect Bouguereau has on people. It is ironic that there is so little importance given to him in Art history while his art has inspired so many artists to go into Art field in the first place.


Bouguereau is my favourite and most inspiring artist, He has the ability to create lifelike, emotion filled paintings, with fabulous composition and range of colours. His skin shading is unmatched for the style. It’s a shame he is not more widely recognised.

This painting is brilliant.


Its an unfortunate reality, the preponderance of books and scholarly study given to some artists (sometimes ad nauseam ) while so many truly great artists are ignored and overlooked. This goes doubly for women artists.

One of my favorite’s Jules Bastion LePage, is totally ignored, perhaps because he died at the age of 37. His painting of Joan of Arc at the NY Met is awe inspiring, yet there is nothing to be found on the man. Try googling him and you won’t find much. Until the last 10 – 15 years Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Gustave Cailleboutte, and Sorolla were largely ignorered but now some excellent books can be gotten on these men and their art. Some like like Repin, Serov and Zorn can only be found in foreign publications. Even for Sargent it took the Whitney retrospective in the early 80’s to open the flood gates on published recognition. So perhaps there is hope for Bouguereau and the many other deserving artists




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.


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…


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. :scream: :)


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