Published: July 3, 2007
William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s reputation has swung from the heights of worldwide success to the depths of scholarly and public neglect. In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in his work as well as acknowledgment of his contributions as a teacher.
“In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students,” on view at The Frick Art Museum July 6⁏ctober 14, brings together 50 paintings, drawings and prints.
The exhibit features Bouguereau and several of his prominent American students, including Cecilia Beaux (1855‱942), Eanger Irving Couse (1866‱936), Minerva Chapman (1858‱947), Elizabeth Gardner (1837‱922), Robert Henri (1865‱929) and Anna Klumpke (1856‱942).
Organized by the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Okla., the exhibition includes many important works by Bouguereau and his students from American public and private collections and is the first to examine Bouguereau’s role as an influential teacher.
In his lifetime, French academic artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825‱905) was considered one of the greatest painters in the world, and he was certainly one of the most commercially successful. Although he fell into disregard in the Twentieth Century, there is now a new regard for his work.
Bouguereau’s fame in America coincided with the establishment of great art collections by wealthy American capitalists. Pittsburgh businessmen were no exception. French galleries, such as Durand-Ruel, would regularly hold exhibitions in Pittsburgh. It was reported of one Pittsburgh showing by Durand-Ruel in 1897 that so many pieces were sold, the exhibition had to be rehung.
Bouguereau’s painting “La Petite Vendangeuse” sold for $5,000 in 1883, setting a record for the price paid for a work of art in Pittsburgh. What has been termed a “Bouguereau epidemic” spread from household to household in Pittsburgh. In the 1890s, close to 24 Pittsburgh homes contained works by Bouguereau, making him the most popular artist among area collectors.
On July 20, 1895, the Frick family called on Bouguereau in his studio. The artist inscribed a photograph of his painting “Espieglerie (the mischievous one)” to Helen Clay Frick as a memento of their visit. Frick bought the painting of the fair-haired young girl, but it has not remained in the collection.
Many aspiring American artists saw Bouguereau’s work in public collections and were eager to travel to Paris, then the center of the art world, to learn from the master.
The development of Couse’s personal style can be traced in this exhibition from an early Salon picture, “At the Cross,” 1889, painted when he was Bouguereau’s student. While its peasant theme is close in subject and style to his teacher’s, the composition already shows a strong sense of abstract design that diverges from Bouguereau.
The Frick Art & Historical Center is at 7227 Reynolds Street. For information, 412-371-0600 or www.frickart.org .
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