Portrait of Leonie Bouguereau by William-Adolphe Bouguereau is my favorite painting and is as familiar to me as if it hung on my wall at home.
I first came upon this work when I was researching Bouguereau for a paper. It shattered my preconceived notions about the painter and really was the starting point for my interest in nineteenth-century French academic art. The work itself could almost be mistaken for one of Manet’s portraits with its flattened and rough brushstrokes that define the portrait’s sitter. However, the face is sensitively rendered, conveying the maximum amount of detail with the minimum amount of paint.
Despite the painting’s rough appearance, this piece is a quiet one and rewards a second or third look. For me, this piece is emblematic of the surprising depth that is found in Bouguereau’s body of work, and the tender rendering of the sitter’s face humanizes the artist for me. I am drawn to this piece for both its aesthetic qualities and its pivotal role in my own personal narrative with art and art history.
William Bouguereau (1825–1905) was an academic artist in Paris during the nineteenth century who was popular with collectors in Europe and the United States. He is often stereotyped as a stodgy and conservative traditionalist that epitomized the decline of the French Academy. Bouguereau’s canvases are highly photorealistic, and common subject choices include genre scenes, religious scenes, and several nudes from classical sources. Ignored for many years following the artist’s death, his work has been revived and studied by scholars since the 1980s.