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’s lot was painted by arguably the greatest figure painter of all time.
Until recently, the name William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) had long been forgotten and disregarded in 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 express 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 — for Bouguereau’s gorgeous pictures were 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.
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. He 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.”
With a relatively modest starting bid of $300,000, the outstanding “Bacchante Teasing a Goat” heads to auction via the Art Master Collection in Miami, Florida. Brilliantly restored and in excellent condition, the picture’s colors seem as vibrant as the day Bouguereau applied them to the canvas. The viewer happens upon a playful, nude priestess and follower of the mythological god Bacchus as she reclines leisurely amongst forest foliage. She casually leans back, resting her weight upon her left arm as her right rises to block the powerful charge of a goat. As expected, the rendering of the subjects is absolutely stunning, especially with regard to the figure herself. The piece is charged with playful — perhaps erotic — energy and connotations, either being appropriate for the subject’s allegiance to Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, poetry, youth, and sexual excess. Auction estimates are as high as $500,000.
To view the full catalogue, visit Art Master Collection.
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