In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “Gipsy with the Tambourine.”

Until recently, the name William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) had been all but forgotten and disregarded by the annals of history. A subject of vexed opinion and debate, Bouguereau suffered a fate similar to Rembrandt’s during the hundred years following his death in 1905: “ridiculed and banished from museums and official art circles,” as biographers Damien Bartoli and Frederick Ross put it. Bouguereau’s masterful paintings could be had for an average of $500 to $1,500 in 1960 — undoubtedly a consequence of the rapidly shifting views and definitions of art during the 20th century.

As one of history’s greatest painters of the figure, it seems opinions — and the market — concerning Bouguereau’s gorgeous pictures was bound to shift, and indeed, 1960 appears to have been rock bottom. Since the “swinging ‘60s,” the value of Bouguereau’s paintings has exploded, doubling on average every four years. In fact, Bartoli and Ross document that in 1979 alone, prices for Bouguereau’s work quadrupled. By 2000, Bouguereau’s canvases were regularly commanding seven figures, and the desire for his works has only continued to increase.

William Adolphe Bouguereau, “Gipsy with the Tambourine,” 1867, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 25 1/4 in. (c) Heritage Auctions 2016
William Adolphe Bouguereau, “Gipsy with the Tambourine,” 1867, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 25 1/4 in. (c) Heritage Auctions 2016

As one of France’s preeminent academic and traditionalist painters, Bouguereau executed some 822 known paintings during his storied career, often portraying quintessential classical and mythological subjects. Bouguereau frequently depicted the figure, and his ability to render the human form is unparalleled; his knowledge of anatomy and physiology surfaces with remarkable clarity, craftsmanship, and skill. Bartoli and Ross write, “Bouguereau caught the very souls and spirits of his subjects much like Rembrandt. Rembrandt is said to have captured the soul of age. Bouguereau captured the soul of youth. Considering his consummate level of skill and craft, and the fact that the great preponderance of his works are life-size, it is one of the largest bodies of work ever produced by any artist. Add to that the fact that fully half of these paintings are great masterpieces, and we have the picture of an artist who belongs, like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, in the top ranks of only a handful of masters in the entire history of western art.”

Heading to the auction block via Heritage Auctions on December 7 in Texas, “Gipsy with the Tambourine” is a brilliant Bouguereau original. The picture shows a single female subject dressed in exotic period clothing. She innocently gazes toward the upper left and out of the frame. Seemingly in a state of daydream, she lightly grasps her tambourine. Bouguereau’s attention to texture in the clothing is truly magnificent. In particular, the soft sheen of the girl’s aqua blue gown is remarkable. Auction estimates are between $300,000 and $500,000.

To view the full catalogue, visit Heritage Auctions.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.


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