Toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, up-and-coming American artists headed to Paris, the world art capital, seeking to gain technical proficiency in drawing and painting and to enhance their reputations. At least 220 studied with academic master William Bouguereau (sometimes cited as William-Adolphe or Adolphe-William) (1825–1905), a respected teacher and commercially and critically successful artist. According to James Peck, Ruth G. Hardman curator of European and American art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, they were “attracted by his larger-than-life personality and his excellent reputation in both France and America during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. For students looking for an exemplar of the established French academic system, no better master could be found.”
Energetic, outgoing and generous, a major figure in the international art world and a favorite of American collectors, Bouguereau considered teaching a sacred duty. He gave freely of his time, advice and friendship to his students, associations that kept him young at heart throughout his life. Indeed, he married a former American pupil, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, following a long engagement.
After establishing his reputation as one of France’s premier history painters, in the last three decades of his career Bouguereau made a lot of money painting sweet, sentimental images, such as “The Young Shepherdess,” 1885, “Young Girl,” 1886, and “The Little Shepherdess,” 1889. These genre works were popular with US collectors.
As a teacher, Bouguereau instructed his pupils in the tenets of his polished academic style with an emphasis on classical composition, accurate draftsmanship and drawing and painting from live models. Student Jefferson D. Chalfant (1856–1931), who later established a successful career in Wilmington, Del., captured the look of a modeling session in “Bouguereau’s Atelier at the Academie Julian,” 1891.
C. Arnold Slade (1882–1961) showed that the scene had changed little more than a quarter century later in “Atelier at the Academie Julian, Paris,” 1907. A Massachusetts native, Slade worked on both sides of the Atlantic and was famous in his day for his brilliantly colored landscapes, genre scenes, biblical depictions, World War I pictures and portraits of Washington, D.C., bigwigs.
Examples of student drawings in the exhibition, such as E.I. Couse’s “Academic Drawing: Male,” circa 1890–91, reflect Bouguereau’s emphasis on depictions of the human body.
Bouguereau delivered valuable critical judgments, primarily at the well-respected Academie Julian, and championed his young Americans students — about 40 percent had at least one painting accepted at the prestigious Paris Salon, some while training with him. Not coincidentally, Bouguereau was a powerful Salon juror for many years.
“He gave them [American pupils] the tools to draw and paint well, and, in accordance with prevailing taste, he helped them to navigate a labyrinth[ine] system of exhibitions, prizes and awards, and he modeled how to become a successful artist,” according to Peck. In short, Bouguereau instilled in his American charges the skills and savvy to succeed abroad and at home.
“In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau and His American Students”ഀ is the first exhibition to focus on the subject; it was organized by Peck and is on view at the Philbrook through December 31.
The exhibition brings together more than 50 paintings, drawings and prints by Bouguereau and such American pupils as Cecilia Beaux, Chalfant, Minerva Chapman, Couse, Gardner, Robert Henri, Anna Klumpke, Lawton Parker, Walter Schofield, Slade and Frederick Waugh.
Because Bouguereau did not insist that his students imitate his personal academic manner, urging them instead to utilize the skills they honed with him to develop their own style and subjects, his impact on those in his classes varied. His future wife, Gardner (1837–1922), for instance, was the only pupil who consciously adopted the master’s highly finished style, as exemplified by “Mother and Child,” circa 1877, and “The Confidence,” circa 1880.
To her critics, she responded, “I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than nobody!” The similarities in style and subject matter between Bouguereau’s “The Donkey Ride,” 1884, and Gardner’s “Crossing the Brook,” 1894, are striking.
Criticisms aside, Gardner achieved great success. In 1868, she, Mary Cassatt and Eliza Haldeman were the first American women to exhibit at the Paris Salon, and Gardner was the first American female to win a Salon medal, in 1887. Maneuvering her way deftly through the male-dominated Parisian art establishment, she cultivated contacts, exploited her ties to Bouguereau and assiduously marketed her anecdotal, women-oriented paintings in the course of becoming the first American woman abroad to support herself solely with her art.
Peck includes two other quite different Bouguereau female students much less known today. Anna Elizabeth Klumpke (1856–1942), who was born and died in San Francisco, was raised in Europe, studied at the Academie Julian in the 1880s and achieved some success as a genre and portrait painter. Klumpke is best remembered as the companion and biographer of famed French animal painter Rosa Bonheur. Her “Portrait of Rosa Bonheur,” circa 1898, offers an empathetic likeness of her aged partner
Minerva Chapman (1858–1947), a native of the North Country of New York, graduated from Mount Holyoke College, and studied art in Chicago and with Bouguereau in Paris, where she lived for three decades. She became a well-respected artist, particularly known for her miniatures, which brought her international acclaim. “Still Life: A Shelf in the Studio, Paris” of 1889, measuring 11 ¼ by 14 ¼ inches, suggests her skills on a somewhat larger scale.
Other students, such as Parker (1868–1954), “developed personal styles that were informed by Bouguereau’s methods, techniques and subjects,” says Peck. American artists “should go to Paris to get under the influence of the great masters and to learn not how to paint the French and Breton peasants, but how to handle the tools,” Parker observed.
Dividing his time between painting and teaching on both sides of the Atlantic, with particular ties to Giverny, Paris and Chicago, Parker pursued a peripatetic, lucrative and influential career. He is best known, along with Frederick Frieseke (whose portrait he painted), as a member of the Luminist Impressionist circle at Giverny, noted for brightly hued depictions of chaste, nude women in colorful, sun-splashed garden settings, such as “Laurel,” circa 1920s.
Waugh (1861–1940) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Academie Julian and started out emulating Bouguereau’s genteel subject matter, with paintings like “Ladies Having Tea,” 1890. He eventually developed a far different specialty, gaining fame for his animated New England seascapes, such as “Silver Light,” circa 1930s.
Another painter of great vigor, Schofield (1867–1944), painted plein air landscapes in England and in Bucks County, Penn. He became a star of the Pennsylvania Impressionists with virile, boldly colored snowscapes, like “The Hill Stream,” circa 1914.
Particularly instructive is Bouguereau’s relationship with Couse (1866–1936), a native of Michigan, to whom the master offered warm friendship and significant guidance. Knowing that the young American needed to make a living from his art, his mentor took extra time to provide assistance on professionalism and how to make money in the art market.
While under his teacher’s sway, Couse painted “At the Cross,” 1889, a depiction of pious Breton women that must have made Bouguereau proud. While in Paris, Couse also became familiar with the brighter palette and predilection for light and atmosphere of the Impressionists, exposure that infused his later work.
His affinity for Impressionism, along with Bouguereau’s lucrative success in selling paintings of peasants, a European subject with links to the past, encouraged Couse to specialize in idealized depictions of Native Americans, who symbolized similar associations in the United States. Couse incorporated his affinity for the transitory effects and colors of Impressionism in works such as “The Connoisseur,”ഀ 1919, and “Pueblo Water Carrier,” circa 1925, as a leader of the Taos School of Artists in New Mexico.
Although Philadelphia-born Beaux (1855–1942), arguably the finest painter of the lot, studied only briefly with Bouguereau, that experience had significant impact on her work. Consistent with her teacher’s academic methods, her early oil sketch, “Landscape with Haystack and Breton Women, Concarneau, France,” 1888, preceded a painting finished in a studio. It only hints at the achievements that were to follow. A highly respected teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and much sought-after painter, Beaux’s fluidly brushed portraits of family friends and notables ranging from Henry James to Theodore Roosevelt were and are favorably compared to John Singer Sargent’s.
Henri (1865–1929), who became an important figure in the development of American art more for his teaching than his paintings, benefited from his academic training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then under Bouguereau. Later, as guiding spirit of the Ashcan School, he fought the stifling influences of the art establishment, emphasizing new approaches to art and realistic paintings of the real world. Henri applied Bouguereau’s instructional methods, stressing technical competence, sound draftsmanship, freedom to choose styles and subjects and professional independence, to become one of the great teachers in American art history. Among his pupils were George Bellows, Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent.
Henri’s vigorously brushed, richly hued “Portrait of Mary Patton,” 1927, depicting a lively young Irish peasant girl, reflects his traditional approach to portraiture. “Henri’s academic training continuously shines through his work,” says Peck.
Although Bouguereau himself is represented in numerous American museums and public institutions, his reputation has waxed and waned over the years. It seems recognition of his achievements is on the rise. According to art historian James F. Cooper, “Bouguereau’s great appeal, apart from his remarkable technique, lies in his use of contemporary female and male models for mythic and religious archetypes…The contemporary faces of…angels give the images an immediacy…[that] explain why…[he] was so popular with Nineteenth Century collectors and why he has been so enthusiastically rediscovered in the last few decades, especially by Americans.”
Adds Peck, “The revival of academic-style realism from the 1970s onward in America came about, at least in part, due to Bouguereau’s canvases in public and private collections.”
This revelatory exhibition should enhance appreciation for the French master’s own art, and suggest the world’s debt to him for the manner in which he helped shaped the careers of so many outstanding American painters. Those acolytes, armed with impeccable artistic tools, insights into how to be a professional and encouragement to adopt independent expressions in their work, occupy significant varied niches in art history. Whether in portraiture, genre scenes, marinescapes, snowscapes, urban views or evocations of the Southwest, Bouguereau’s American followers made their mark.
The illustrated, 211-page catalog, with essays by curator Peck and art historians Gerald Ackerman, Damien Bartoli and Charles Pearo, sells for $50 hardcover and $39.95 soft cover. It is published by the Philbrook and distributed by Yale University Press.
“In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau and His American Students” will travel to the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Fla. (February 9–May 27, 2007) and the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh (July 7–October 7, 2007).
The Philbrook Museum of Art is at 2727 South Rockford Road. For information, 918-749-7941 or www.philbrook.org.