When I was a freshman at Lawrence University (1973-74) I sat through many an art history lecture in the same hall that much of the university’s art collection was hung. One large painting, of a nymph surrounded by putti, was by French academic painter William Adolphe Bouguereau. This painter was the boogie man of modernism, and was regularly denigrated in lectures as the kind of horrible artist the impressionists rebelled against. As the tri-mesters progressed, the Bouguereau painting in the hall began to collect puncture wounds from students pens and pencils, until there were twenty or more small holes. At the time the value of the painting was probably very low. Today, it would once again be worth millions… at least if it hadn’t been vandalized.
I don’t care much for the content of Bouguereau’s work, but the man can paint soft female flesh better than I ever will. I made this piece after rediscovering a kitschy old sketch of mine, and deciding to convert it to be about the death of the famous academic painter. He spent most of his life happily painting beautiful girls and women (not a bad occupation for a lifetime), so I felt it would be interesting for him to be tossed out the window of his La Rochelle studio by a modern dance troupe consisting of little girls in black leotards.
No one has commented on this, but, as usual, in the shower this morning something hit me. I saw this picture in my minds eye and thought about the painting in the background. Bouguereau’s ‘The Wave’- it’s perfect in this painting because it’s as if a wave is carrying him right out the window!
Great job Scott, although I would have been tempted to make him more effete. But I like it that he has some weight and the modern dance troupe is a funny touch. Also the red tying the figures together, a little blue and the white of his flesh are like the tricolour!
My wife noted the colors of the French Republic, too, but it was totally subconscious on my part. Ol’ Bougie was a tiny little fat guy, but in his day a giant of a painter… who then got tossed out the window of modernism. I wasn’t sure if five girls could lift this guy. Depending on his weight (275?) they’d each be lifting quite a bit for their size. But they could have lifted the actual Bouguereau.
A brilliant painting again, of course, and a new one. Its typically you whilst having noticeable elements of other painters. The lighting and setting remind me of Hopper but the grouping is so reminiscent of Poussin and even Rubens. When one thinks of the groups of figures in Rubens and Bougereau , they become weightless and ascend into the air effortlessly. Here, with deliberate modern (post modern) realism/irony, the old man is a heavy, lifeless lump. Bougereau painted skin that you want to touch; how the girls can bear to touch the cold, grey, dead meat in your work I don’t know. Very clever.
Hadn’t thought of Hopper here, but I can see that. Rubens is one I’ve looked at throughout my career, and the influence here is pretty clear, though not specific. More specific is Titian’s Entombment of Christ. To me the real humor was in the idea of an apotheosis of Bouguereau, who effortlessly painted all those weightless putti, but his is full of dead weight, and his angels represent Modernism/feminist theory, which will destroy his reputation for a hundred years. As you’ve probably noticed, my sense of humor is kind of dark!
One of the best places to see the technique of Bouguereau is at the Frye Museum in Seattle. They have some late works, when he wasn’t as good, technically a little clunky. But through that you can see how he worked, how he applied the paint to get such a feeling of living flesh.
Terrific painting, Scott. I wrote a long article on Bouguereau for The Art of Man quarterly Journal. If you’d like to see it I’ll email a copy to you.
I’d love to see it, Grady. Such an interesting character. I got some help from Jon Swihart on his final days in La Rochelle. And then found something on the house online… not that I stuck to it!