William Bouguereau: The Last History Painter | Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center
"The new French government pressured the Ministry of Culture to organize a Grand Triennale of history painting, to raise the morale of the French people and the arts community, who were incorporating themes of decline and decadence. The Ministry selected Meissonnier to organize the exhibition. Many artists saw through the charade. Among those who refused an invitation to exhibit was Bouguereau. The Ministry simply “borrowed” some of his works. The exhibition was a grand failure. Increasingly, the public turned to the works of the Impressionists, with their theme of “art for art’s sake.” The art world, like French politics, was splitting into two camps. Almost alone, Bouguereau continued to focus on spiritual and religious subjects. Not even the notorious Dreyfus Affair provoked a single notation in his voluminous journals. It is those passionate masterpieces, beautifully reproduced in Ross’s book, that attracted a large cult following during his lifetime, inFrance and America. Germany itself was experiencing a spiritual renaissance in the works of the Nazarene artists, who had established a religious school of art in a large medieval monastery just outside Rome. There were religious stirrings among the Pre-Raphaelite artists in England, inspired by the writings and messianic lectures of Ruskin. (Ruskin also had a profound influence on the artists of the American Hudson River School.) Bouguereau had the advantage of the best secular anatomical education in the nude figure, which was then provided by theFrenchAcademy. Few artists of any nation could match the perfection and grace of Bouguereau’s figure paintings and drawings."
"Miraculously, by the end of his career, as he approached 80, he had produced a series of Madonna and Child paintings that are among his best work. The Virgin of the Lillies (1899), which is part of the Newington-Cropsey Collection, evokes the flat, rich decorative motifs and patterns one observes in early Renaissance religious paintings. Crippled by age and illness, he continued to paint and attend to his teaching. In the last year, he managed to produce a dozen paintings. Despite a declared national period of mourning, within a few years after his death, the backlash had begun. Within a few more years, his name and work had been largely expunged from public memory. Textbooks were rewritten to eliminate Bouguereau’s contributions to the history of art. Now, after almost a century of rejection, his paintings are once again drawing attention and admiration. Today, in America, Bouguereau is a respected figure for hundreds of students working in small, independent ateliers, like those ofJacob Collins and Stephen Gjertson. When I was a young art student, teachers would literally twist the Conté stick out of your hand if they observed you trying to create a classical approach to the figure. For much of the last half of the twentieth century, classicism and realism were out of favor. Finished, formal works were anathema."
The art world basically considers the work of Bouguereau to be trash. The reason is simply that he painted pictures of things that were beautiful and good. The art world has long been dominated by godless people who want pictures of things that are ugly and controversial. They will always despise the work of Bouguereau.