The William Adolphe Bouguereau biography

William-Adolphe Bouguereau Biography

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

 
William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, France on November 30, 1825, into a family of wine and olive oil merchants. He seemed destined to join the family business but for the intervention of his uncle Eugène, a curate, who taught him classical and biblical subjects, and arranged for Bouguereau to go to high school. Bouguereau showed artistic talent early on and his father was convinced by a client to send him to the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, where he won first prize in figure painting for a depiction of Saint Roch. To earn extra money, he designed labels for jams and preserves.

Through his uncle, Bouguereau was given a commission to paint portraits of parishioners, and when his aunt matched the sum he earned, Bouguereau went to Paris and became a student at the École des Beaux-Arts.  To supplement his formal training in drawing, he attended anatomical dissections and studied historical costumes and archeology. He was admitted to the studio of François-Edouard Picot, where he studied painting in the academic style. Academic painting placed the highest status on historical and mythological subjects and Bouguereau won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1850, with his Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes.  His reward was a stay at the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy, where in addition to formal lessons he was able to study first-hand the Renaissance artists and their masterpieces.

In 1856, he married Marie-Nelly Monchablon and subsequently had five children. By the late 1850s, he made strong connections with art dealers, particularly Paul Durand-Ruel (later the champion of the Impressionists), who helped clients buy paintings from artists who exhibited at the Salons.  The Salons annually drew over 300,000 people, thereby providing valuable exposure to exhibited artists.  Bouguereau’s fame extended to England by the 1860s and then he bought a large house and studio in Montparnasse with his growing income. 

Bouguereau steadily gained the honors of the Academy, reaching Life Member in 1876, and Commander of the Legion of Honor and Grand Medal of Honor in 1885.  He began to teach drawing at the Académie Julian in 1875, a co-ed art institution independent of the École des Beaux-Arts, with no entrance exams and with nominal fees.

In 1877, both his wife and infant son died. At a rather advanced age, Bouguereau was married for the second time in 1896, to fellow artist Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau, one of his pupils.  He also used his influence to open many French art institutions to women for the first time, including the Academie Fracaise.

Near the end of his life he described his love of his art, “Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come…if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable.” He painted eight hundred and twenty-six paintings.

In the spring of 1905, Bouguereau's house and studio in Paris were robbed. On August 19, 1905, Bouguereau died in La Rochelle at age 79 from heart disease.

 
 
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