Adolphe William Bouguereau Quotes

by Armand Cabrera

Adolphe William Bouguereau became the epitamy of what was wrong with academic art in the late 19 and early 20th centuries. Villified by the more progressive movements in art, his work has been trivialized for 100 years now. These atitudes are slowly changing and Bouguereau seems to have had the last laugh. His work has continually risen in popularity. He was a successful artist and an important and influential  teacher in Paris in the 19th century. With a resurgence in respect for quality in drawing, painting and beauty, Bouguereau’s impact on art and his work has a chance to be placed in correct perpective within art history.

For me a work of art must be an elevated interpretation of nature. The search for the ideal has been the purpose of my life. In landscape or seascape, I love above all the poetic motif.

Paint as you see and be accurate in your drawing: the whole secret of your art is there.

If you want to draw and model effectively you have to see all of the details as well as the whole at the same time.

One of the tricks for getting the overall feeling of a painting is to blink your eyes while looking at the model.

One is born an artist. The artist is a man endowed with a special nature, with a particular feeling for seeing form and color spontaneously, as a whole, in perfect harmony. If one lacks that feeling, one is not an artist and will never become an artist; and it is a waste of time to entertain the possibility.

The craft is acquired through study, observation and practice; it can improve by ceaseless work but the instinct for art is innate.

First one has to love nature with all ones heart and soul, and be able to study and admire it for hours on end. Everything is in nature. A plant, a leaf, a blade of grass, should be the subjects of infinite and fruitful meditations; for the artist, a cloud floating in the sky has form, and the form affords him joy, helps him think.

Before starting work, steep yourself in your subject; if you don’t fully understand it, seek further or turn to something else. Remember that everything must be thought out beforehand, everything, down to the last details.

As soon as a painting is completed, I know that in this or that portfolio I’ll find such and such a sketch, and straight away I go to a new canvas. I never ask myself, “Let’s see, what can I do now?” I have my work all cut out for me. Not to mention the many works that will go unfinished for want of the ideal model.

Think about the drawing, the color the composition- when you work you must consider all these things equally.

You leave unpainted what you cannot see; it is ignorance that makes you blind; it is inattention that makes you ignorant; inattention is imbecile.

I understood that the subtlety of accents, in contrast with large planes, is what makes drawing great. This truth, which I have yearned all my life to express and which still drives me on, is the secret of art. It applies to composition as well as to drawing proper. It is the principle that must guide both the young beginner and the fully developed artist.

William Bouguereau 1825- 1905
Louise d’Argencourt Mark Steven Walker
Exhibition Catalog published in 1984

Adolphe William Bouguereau 1825-1905


Armand Cabrera

Adolphe William Bouguereau was born in 1825 in La Rochelle. He was the son of a wine merchant. At sixteen his father allowed him to attend art school as long as his son paid his own expenses. Bouguereau took a job as a book keeper and also made labels for local grocers. After two years of study Bouguereau entered a local art competition and won first prize. With help from his Uncle who was a priest, Bouguereau was commissioned to paint portraits for wealthy landowners of the parish. Bouguereau painted 33 portraits in his first three months.

In 1846 with the money he had earned painting portraits Bouguereau entered François-Edouard Picots atelier in Paris. Fellow students included Gustave Moreau and Alexandre Cabanel.

In 1847 Ecole Competitions Bouguereau garnered four medals on for perspective and three for figure work.

In 1848 Bouguereau joined the Monarchy to help contain the civil uprising that had broken out. That same year he won one of two Grand Prix awards.

In 1850 he receives the Prix De Rome which allows him to study in Italy for three years. In Italy Bouguereau refined his technique by copying master paintings and sketching the people and countryside.

On his return to France Bouguereau resumed entering exhibitions. The state purchased Triumph of the Martyr from him in 1855.

In 1856 Bouguereau received one of his most important commissions Napoleon III visiting The Flood Victims of Tarascon. For this commission he was paid 5000 gold francs. He was also married to Marie Nelly Monchablon later that year.

The next few years Bouguereau received commissions for public spaces painting murals in Churches and theaters. In 1866 Bouguereau began marketing his genre work exclusively through Adolphe Goupil.

In 1875 he took a teaching post at the Academie Julian and in 1881 became its director. He held this office until his death.

Bouguereau moved his family to a house he had built in a Paris neighborhood. Here he stayed and worked until the outbreak of the Franco Prussian War. He moved his family to Brittany for safety but he stayed through the siege of Paris and its surrender. The siege was followed by the Communard insurrection against the formal French Government and as many as twenty thousand died in the city.

Bouguereau suffered many personal tragedies in his life; four of his five children died and his wife died at the age of forty.

He began a relationship with one of his students Elizabeth Gardner but he did not marry her until after his mother’s death. His mother had objected to their relationship and so they postponed a formal marriage until 1896.
Bouguereau was extremely successful during his lifetime he was honored with many awards. He was also vilified by younger generations of artists that rejected his focus on a high degree of finish and skilled drawing. This did not stop him from working at subjects that others found shallow or overly sentamental.
There has been much made about the style of modern art as a response to war but I think one could make the case for Bouguereau and his art as an equally valid response. His art was a refuge from what must have been for him a sad, painful personal life, burying almost all of his children and then his wife at a relatively young age. During these times his religious faith sustained him and he worked. In this context his art makes sense and I can’t help but see it as a need to make the world a beautiful place in some small way after experiencing so much tragedy.
Adolphe William Bouguereau died august 19th 1905.
William Bouguereau 1825- 1905

Louise d’Argencourt Mark Steven Walker

Exhibition Catalog published in 1984
The Lure of Paris Nineteenth Century
American Painters and Their French Teachers
H. Barbara Weinberg
Abbeville Press1991
Some Call it Kitsch
Masterpieces of Bourgeois Realism
Aleska Celebonovic
Abrams 1974


Bouguereau Quotes Part 2

Armand Cabrera

This final group of quotes represents the last  of three articles on Bouguereau that I started two weeks ago. At some point I might return and write about his process since it is well documented and maybe it will help to dispel the myths that have grown around him. For those interested the ARC sponsored book on Bouguereau is out at $262.00 US dollars, it is 800 pages and is a luxury two-volume set in a slipcase, which includes all of Bouguereau’s known paintings as well as a comprehensive biography. I’m trying to figure out how I can justify buying one and slip it by Diane. If anyone wants to buy and send me a copy I’ll be happy to review it here:-)

Every morning I get up at seven without fail and have breakfast, then I go up to my studio which I don’t leave all day. Around three o’clock, a light meal is brought in; I don’t have to leave my work. I rarely have visitors, since I hate to be disturbed. My friends though are always welcome. They don’t bother me, I can work even when it’s noisy or they’re chatting. When I’m painting I don’t pay attention to anything else.

In painting, I’m an idealist. I see only the beautiful in art and, for me art is the beautiful. Why reproduce what is ugly in nature? I don’t see why it should be necessary. Painting what one sees just as it is, no- or at least, not unless one is immensely gifted. Talent is all redeeming and can excuse anything. Nowadays, painters go much too far, just as writers and realist novelists do. There is no way of telling where they will draw the line. I prefer poets; each to his own taste.

Starting a picture is very pleasant, for you always believe that this time you’re going to create a masterpiece; you take pains, and little by little the painting takes shape, the effect comes through. You feel marvelous sensations. When it’s done however things are different. You want to touch up the arm, the movement of the body doesn’t seem graceful…and you end up doing nothing for fear of having to redo the whole thing completely.

People say I paint to make money; it’s not true. I don’t need to make money; my family and I already have more than we need. But I have to paint all the time as I see feel, and know. That’s all there is to it. People pay a lot for my paintings and I’m not complaining; it proves my work is still appreciated. But if they didn’t sell as well as they do it wouldn’t stop me from making them.

Theory has no place in an artist’s basic education. It is the eye and the hand that should be exercised during the impressionable years of youth. It is always possible to later acquire the accessory knowledge involved in the production of a work of art, but never — and I want to stress that point — never can the will, perseverance, and tenacity of a mature man make up for insufficient practice. And can there be such anguish compared to that felt by the artist who sees the realization of his dream compromised by weak execution?