William-Adolphe Bouguereau

French Academic Classical Painter, Draftsman, and Teacher

1825 - 1905

Self Portrait of William Bouguereau

"Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the morning to come...My work is not only a pleasure, it has become a necessity. No matter how many other things I have in my life, if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable." --William Bouguereau

"One has to seek Beauty and Truth, Sir! As I always say to my pupils, you have to work to the finish. There's only one kind of painting. It is the painting that presents the eye with perfection, the kind of beautiful and impeccable enamel you find in Veronese and Titian." --William Bouguereau, 1895

William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, France on November 30, 1825, into a family of wine and olive oil merchants. He seemed destined to join the family business but for the intervention of his uncle Eugène, a curate, who taught him classical and biblical subjects, and arranged for Bouguereau to go to high school. Bouguereau showed artistic talent early on and his father was convinced by a client to send him to the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, where he won first prize in figure painting for a depiction of Saint Roch. To earn extra money, he designed labels for jams and preserves.

Through his uncle, Bouguereau was given a commission to paint portraits of parishioners, and when his aunt matched the sum he earned, Bouguereau went to Paris and became a student at the École des Beaux-Arts. To supplement his formal training in drawing, he attended anatomical dissections and studied historical costumes and archeology. He was admitted to the studio of François-Edouard Picot, where he studied painting in the academic style. Academic painting placed the highest status on historical and mythological subjects and Bouguereau won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1850, with his Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes. His reward was a stay at the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy, where in addition to formal lessons he was able to study first-hand the Renaissance artists and their masterpieces.

Bouguereau, completely in tune with the traditional Academic style, exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Paris Salon for his entire working life.

Detail from The Birth of Venus by Bouguereau. An early reviewer stated, "M. Bouguereau has a natural instinct and knowledge of contour. The harmony and movement of the human body preoccupies him, and in recalling the happy results which, in this genre, the ancients and the artists of the sixteenth century arrived at, one can only congratulate M. Bouguereau in attempting to follow in their footsteps…Raphael was inspired by the ancients…and no one accused him of not being original."

Raphael was a favorite of Bouguereau and he took this review as a high compliment. He had fulfilled one of the requirements of the Prix de Rome by completing an old-master copy of Raphael'sThe Triumph of Galatea. In many of his works, he followed the same classical approach to composition, form, and subject matter.

In 1856, he married Marie-Nelly Monchablon and subsequently had five children. By the late 1850's, he made strong connections with art dealers, particularly Paul Durand-Ruel (later the champion of the Impressionists), who helped clients buy paintings from artists who exhibited at the Salons. The Salons annually drew over 300,000 people, thereby providing valuable exposure to exhibited artists. Bouguereau's fame extended to England by the 1860's and then he bought a large house and studio in Montparnasse with his growing income.

Bouguereau was a staunch traditionalist whose realistic genre paintings and mythological themes were modern interpretations of Classical subjects-both pagan and Christian-with a heavy concentration on the female human body. Although he created an idealized world, his almost photo-realistic style brought to life his goddesses, nymphs, bathers, shepherdesses, and madonnas in a way which was very appealing to rich art patrons of his time. The fact that his peasants always had clean feet, pristine clothes, and beautiful faces was totally acceptable to his admirers. Some critics, however, preferred the honesty of Jean-François Millet's truer-to-life depiction of hard-working farmers and laborers.

Bouguereau employed traditional methods of working up a painting, including detailed pencil studies and oil sketches, and his careful method resulted in a pleasing and accurate rendering of the human form. His painting of skin, hands, and feet was particularly admired. He also used some of the religious and erotic symbolism of the Old Masters, such as the "broken pitcher" which connoted lost innocence.

One of the rewards of staying within the Academic style and doing well in the Salons was receiving commissions to decorate private houses, public buildings, and churches. As was typical of these commissions, sometimes Bouguereau would paint in his own style, and other times he had to conform to an existing group style. Early on, Bouguereau was commissioned in all three venues, which added enormously to his prestige and fame. He also made reductions of his public paintings for sale to patrons, of which The Annunciation (1888) is an example. He was also a successful portrait painter though many of his paintings of wealthy patrons still remain in private hands.

Bouguereau steadily gained the honors of the Academy, reaching Life Member in 1876, and Commander of the Legion of Honor and Grand Medal of Honor in 1885. He began to teach drawing at the Académie Julian in 1875, a co-ed art institution independent of the École des Beaux-Arts, with no entrance exams and with nominal fees.

In 1877, both his wife and infant son died. At a rather advanced age, Bouguereau was married for the second time in 1896, to fellow artist Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau, one of his pupils. He also used his influence to open many French art institutions to women for the first time, including the Académie française.

He painted eight hundred and twenty-six paintings. Bouguereau died in La Rochelle at age 80 from heart disease. There can be little doubt that Bouguereau was one of the most talented painters of his time, but it is a shame that he has fallen into obscurity with museum curators and those supposedly sophisticated about art who think that ugliness and lack of content imply depth and talent.

The Motherland (Alma Parens)

Alma Parens is a patriotic masterpiece. The name Alma Parens is Latin for Nurturing Mother. However, it was also adapted from Latin into the more commonly known words 'alma parens' meaning national anthem. The woman in this image represents Mother France nurturing her children. Her face is filled with resolution and a determined steadfastness to her cause. The nine children surrounding her look poor and in desperate need of her aid. If one looks closely at the mother one can almost see a slight glimpse of worry in her eyes, and a slight uncertainty about her ability to perform her duty, for storm clouds above her forecast rough times ahead.

As Damien Bartoli, world expert on Bougureau, points out: 'The beautiful and impassive young woman forms a truly modern icon, wearing a wreath of ears of corn decorated with flowers in the colors of the French nation: the blue corn-flower, white daisies and red corn poppies. At her feet lie strewn the symbols of agricultural France in the form of wheat and a grape vine, but also of an apple, symbolizing the autumn, the season of fruit and the harvest'. Alma Parens broke the world record for a Bougureau painting sold at auction in November of 1998 when it sold for $2,640,000, a record which was again broken a year and a half later with the sale of Charity for $3,600,000.

Little Thieves (Petites Maraudeuses)

In this tender piece two sisters are escaping with a basket of stolen apples. The older sister is gently helping the younger off of a wall. One gets the sense when looking at this piece that the two girls have done this many times before, causing the love, companionship, and sense of shared mischief to be clearly and tenderly captured. This work is a great example of Bouguereau's amazing sense of composition. Both sisters are centered with the space between them being in the almost exact center of the canvas; the younger sister's knee countering the older sisters head. The green foliage hanging off the left side of the wall perfectly offsets the bush in the lower right; and the apples in the lower left are countered by the light area in the upper right. Even the wall is balanced with the bricks peaking through the wall to the lower left and the grass poking through on the upper right. Bouguereau painted another image of a young thief 28 years later called Little Thief which is an image of a young girl sitting on a wall, holding a single pear and smiling mischievously.

Charity (La Charité)

Charity currently holds the world record for a Bouguereau painting sold at auction selling in the summer of 2000 for 3,600,000 US dollars. The painting depicts a beautiful woman caring and protecting five young children giving them her nurturing, sustenance, and knowledge. The nurturing is represented by her bared breasts indicating her intent to allow the children to nurse from her, and illustrating her willingness to give of herself for their well being. Under her left foot is an overturned jug with gold and silver coins flowing out of it. This symbol reveals that there is no cost too great for their happiness, and that she is willing spend what ever money it takes to ensure it, even if it's everything that she has. By her right foot a boy is leaning on a pile of books, showing her intent to educate them and give them the gift of knowledge. Charity is a truly exquisite painting using symbolic imagery to portray the true meaning of selflessness and of course charity.

Cupid and Psyche as Children (L'Amour et Psyche, enfants)

The story of Cupid and Psyche was one of Bouguereau’s favorite myths. He painted several works inspired from this legend, such as The Rapture of Psyche, Psyche and Cupid, and Psyche. The myth of Cupid and Phsyche first appears written in The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius in the 2nd century AD. In the story, Psyche is a beautiful princess of whom the goddess Venus is jealous. In her rage she orders her son cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster, but Cupid falls in love with her himself. After several trials Cupid and Psyche make their plea to the gods who turn Psyche into an immortal and allow them to be married in heaven (British Library). In this painting Bouguereau was inspired to paint the two lovers together as children. Demonstrating that fate its self had a hand in there meeting. They were born to be together. The subtle paint handling captures the children’s innocence and illustrates to the viewer that Cupid's original attraction to Psyche was not purely physical, but also platonic, for the innocence of childhood does not allow for anything else. You cannot have true love without also having a mutual trust and respect, and a relaxed and enduring companionship between lovers. Cupid and Psyche’s union then is not just physical: they are soul mates and compliment each other eternally.

The Rapture of Psyche (Le Ravissement de Psyche)

This is one of Bouguereau’s more romantic pieces. With Psyche finally in the arms of her love, Cupid, the two ascend to heaven. The subtle use of color is truly astonishing. The light and dark purples of the cloth surrounding Cupid and Psyche play beautifully against the purple grey clouds and mountains. The myth of Cupid and Psyche dates all the way back to Apuleius in the 2nd century AD. In the myth, Psyche is a beautiful princess of whom the goddess Venus is jealous. In her rage she orders her son cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster, but Cupid falls in love with her himself. After several trials Cupid and Psyche make their plea to the gods who turn Psyche into an immortal and allow them to be married in heaven (British Library). The story of Cupid and Psyche was a subject matter for several of Bouguereau’s paintings including Cupid and Psyche as Children (1889), Psyche and Cupid (1896), and Psyche.

Nymphs and Satyr (Nymphes et Satyre)

Four nymphs tease and play with a satyr by trying to pull him into a lake. One nymph waves behind to three other nymphs in the distance, perhaps beckoning them to come and play with the satyr as well. The satyr half heartedly tries to resist the nymph’s wiles, entranced by their beauty. Nymphs are from Greek mythology. They are considered to be minor female deities, and have a duty to protect different elements of nature such as streams, mountains and meadows (pantheon). The male counterpart for a nymph is a satyr. A satyr is a creature also from Greek mythology having the torso and face of a man, ears and tail of a horse, and feet of a goat. They are known for being lustful and fertile creatures. Bouguereau captures an incredible sense of motion in this piece. One can feel the struggle for the satyr to keep his ground, and the nymphs’ joyous struggle to pull him in. The three dimensional rendering of form and movement is reminiscent of some of Bernini’s most famous works at the Palace Borghesi in Rome, such as Pluto and Prosperpine, and Apollo and Daphne.

As an aside, consider this interesting article in the New York Times, published April 7, 2000, by KATIE HAFNER:

Lenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art (let me repeat "the director of the Museum of Modern Art"), has a vivid memory of the first time he was profoundly moved by a work of art. At age 7, during a visit to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., he was separated from his parents.

While wandering in search of them, he came upon a huge painting, Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau. His parents found him a half-hour later, still staring at the 6-by-8-foot painting. "I just remember being completely transfixed by it," said Mr. Lowry, who is now 45.

The experience helped Mr. Lowry believe in the transformative power of art and what he calls the "unique encounters that occur when one is fortunate to confront directly an extraordinary object." Mr. Lowry, as well as other museum directors, wants to broaden the opportunity for such transforming moments by providing encounters with virtual art, viewed on a computer screen and brought to the art-viewing public via the World Wide Web.

Birth of Venus (Naissance de Venus)

Venus, known as the bringer of joy, Roman goddess of love and beauty stands on a shell in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by admirers. Two mermen use conch shells to trumpet her arrival as the angels that came to witness her birth ascend to heaven. This painting is truly a tour de force for Bouguereau, standing just over 9’ 10” high, and just under 7’2” wide. Birth of Venus contains 22 fully worked out figures all of which come together to form an amazing composition. Bouguereau uses the goddess, Venus, as an exemplar of the Beauty in our lives. Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus holds a strong resemblance to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which also depicts Venus with long flowing hair standing on a similar shell.

Elegy (Douleur d'amour)

Today I have ascended to the mountain
and when I have arrived to their summit
I have still continued ascending
until arriving to the heights
of beyond the sky...

And I have thrown my questions
so that it took them to you the wind...

... but you were stone
and the echo returned them to me...

Springtime (Le Printemps)

Le Printemps
par Théophile Gautier

Regardez les branches
Comme elles sont blanches,
Il neige des fleurs.

Riant de la pluie
Le soleil essuie
les saules en pleurs.

Et le ciel reflète
Dans la violette
Ses pures couleurs…

La mouche ouvre l'aile
Et la demoiselle
Aux prunelles d'or,
Au corset de guêpe
Dépliant son crêpe,
A repris l'essor.

L'eau gaiement babille,
Le goujon frétille
Un printemps encore !

By Théophile Gautier

Look at the boughs,
How white they are,
It's snowing flowers!

Scoffing at the rain,
The sun dries
The weepy willow.

And the sky reflects
In the violets
Its pure colors…

The fly opens its wings
And the dragonfly
With the golden pupils,
And the wasp-like corset,
Unfolding its silky wings,
Has resumed its flight.

The water happily babbles,
The tiny fish wriggles
It's Springtime again!

Art and Literature (L'art et la Litterature)

The Heart's Awakening (L'Eveil du Coeur)

The Wave (La Vague)

Les Deux Baigneuses (The Two Bathers) - 1884 - Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Young Girl Defending herself against Cupid (Jeune Fille se Defendant Contre L'amour)

There are a lot of things about this painting to like. Obviously, this painting is about archetypes. This is a young girl confronting Cupid, the minor God of love. In a way, I suppose you could say that if you took this painting literally, it's a bit perverse, but it shouldn't be taken that way. This painting is about ideas that relate to the human experience, and there's a lot going on here. Indeed, just have a look at their faces:

You know, I'm not certain I've ever seen anything quite like this painting. It especially amazes me that a man drew this, not a woman.

In a way, isn't this how way every teenage girl has seen every teenage boy she ever had a crush on?

The Nymphaeum (La Nymphée)

A Nymphaeum, in ancient Greece and Rome, was a monument consecrated to the nymphs, especially those of springs. These monuments were originally natural grottoes, which tradition assigned as habitations to the local nymphs. They were sometimes so arranged as to furnish a supply of water, as at Pamphylian Side. A nymphaeum dedicated to a local water nymph, Coventina, was built along Hadrian's Wall, in the northernmost reach of the Roman Empire. Subsequently, artificial grottoes took the place of natural ones.

Admiration (L'admiration)

The Wasp's Nest (Le Guêpier)

Au Bord du Ruisseau

This painting is one of the most sensitive single figures ever painted. Hauntingly enigmatic, but kind and beautiful, this young peasant girl's childhood innocence blends seamlessly with the emerging woman who rivets your eyes to hers. She stares directly at you with a serene kindness imbued with goodness and trust. Inherent is the moral imperative not to betray that trust. This is a prime example of Bouguereau's unique ability to capture every subtle nuance of personality and mood.

Symbolically she sits by "The Edge of the River". She sits at perhaps the greatest crossroads in life as she prepares to enter the adult world. Her hands and legs are crossed symbolically as are the trunks of the trees behind her. She wears a humanistic halo of vibrant red flowers alluding to the spirituality inherent in youth.

Seated Bather (Baigneuse Accroupie)

The Youth of Bacchus (La Jeunesse de Bacchus)

Thirst (La Soif)

Portrait de Gabrielle Cot

This magnificent portrait has been judged by a number of top experts and master artists, to be one of the greatest portrait heads ever painted ... by any artist ... ever.

Gabriel Cot was the daughter of Bouguereau's most famous student, Pierre August Cot. Bouguereau was planning to use her for one of his major paintings, and so he started this as a study for that painting, but, as he worked, he was so captivated by Gabriel's beauty, including her intense inner beauty, that he finished it as one of his only un-commissioned portraits.

The Prisoner (Le Captif)

La Bourrique

The Horseback Ride is truly a painting about the joys of childhood, and is yet another one of Bouguereau's celebrations of life. Two girls play amidst the beauty of nature one on the others back. Both children are dressed in peasants clothing, showing that despite their lack of money and social status, they still can, and are experiencing great joy in their lives. This image is also an expression of friendship. The one girl is willing to support the other, and her smile indicates the willingness and joy she takes in the task. The girl on top, though perhaps a bit nervous, trusts in the other not to drop her. There is also a slightly removed quality to the young rider. Even though she is supposed to be enjoying the game her expression shows that perhaps there is not as much joy in it as there once was. This could indicate that she is growing up and leaving her childhood behind her. Bouguereau could be saying to enjoy our childhood while it lasts, because as the young rider is learning, it is indeed very short.

Dawn (L'aurore)

The Two Bathers (Les Deux Baigneuses)

Les Deux Baigneuses (The Two Bathers) - 1884 - Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

The Jewel of the Fields (Parure des Champs)

Le Repos

Though the family depicted in this scene is poor, one can tell that they understand that money does not necessarily buy happiness. The mother tenderly holds her baby with her older son asleep at her feet indicating the joy and peace that can be found in everyday family life and in motherhood. The mother gazes out at her viewers as if to ask how she could possibly need more then she already has, her greatest treasures lying in her arms and at her feet. Bouguereau was a deeply religious man, and the church in the background symbolizes that God rules over the rich as well as the poor, and that all people are children of God and equal in His eyes.

In Penitence (En Penitence)

Laurel Branch (Branche de Laurier)

Devoted to the sun by Greeks and Romans the laurel is a peace symbol like the olive. In Rome, a divinatory tool, it played a very important role in mysteries and religious rites. In sacrifices, assistants were sprinkled with a branch of laurel soaked in holy water. In Greece, to prophesy, Pythia, the soothsayers chewed and burned its leaves, those who obtained a favorable reply returned crowned with laurel. In China, it is at the foot of the laurel that the hare of the Moon chews the simples, from which it extracts the drug of immortality. Nowadays, when the laurel dries up in the garden, it's an omen of death for the master of the house.

In Rome the Romans waved branches of laurel as a sign of joy and it adorned statues of Jupiter after every victory. The goddess of the Victory held a triumphal crown of laurel in one hand and in the other a palm branch. The winning generals, poets and scientists were crowned with it. Triumphant emperors wore laurel crowns and carried laurel in their hands. Emblem of peace and truce, carried on the victors javelin tips, it became a symbol of joy and victory. The use of crowns of laurel became so general that Christians used it to glorify their martyrs. Roman herdsmen scented and disinfected their cowsheds with fumigations of laurel mixed with sulphur and juniper. Doing the same in times of epidemic.

Daphne, pursued persistently by Apollo, implored the other Olympian gods to help her. By them she was rendered unrecognizable and changed into the most precious of aromatics, the laurel, whose light bark covered her breasts; her hairs became foliage, her graceful arms branches, her feet solid roots. Apollo, inconsolable, covers himself with leaves, and since, the name of 'Apollo's laurel' as remained.

A Childhood Idyll (Idylle Enfantine)

An idyll can also be a kind of painting, usually representing a pastor and his animals in a rural setting. They are depicted in a natural way, with the three components - man, animal and the environment - in a harmonious unity, preventing the picture from being either a landscape, or a genre, or just an image of an animal. Nature in this combination is presented in an unsophisticated, realistic fashion.

The subjects of such pictures are usually simple people living in uncivilised conditions, featuring naïvety in their thinking and yet leading a happy and cheerful life. The style ignores the real misery associated with rural poverty. The approach to the presentation is not humorous, but emotional, sometimes sentimental.

Young Worker (Jeune Ouvriere)

The Assault (L'Assaut)

The Lost Pleiad (L'Etoile Perdue)

"And if longing seizes you for sailing the stormy seas,
when the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea
but, as I bid you, remember to work the land."

The Harvester (Moissonneuse)

Psyche and Cupid (Psyche et L'Amour)

The goddess Venus, jealous and envious of the beauty of a mortal woman named Psyche, asked her son, Cupid, to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the most vile creature on earth. Cupid agreed but then fell in love with Psyche on his own.

When all continued to admire and praise Psyche's beauty but none desired her as a wife, Psyche's parents consulted an oracle, which told them to leave Psyche on the nearest mountain, for her beauty was so great that she was not meant for man. Terrified, they had no choice but to follow the oracle's instructions. But then Zephyrus, the west wind, carried Psyche away to a fair valley and a magnificent palace where she was attended by invisible servants until night fell and in the darkness of night the promised bridegroom arrived and the marriage was consummated. Cupid visited her every night to make love to her, but demanded that she never light any lamps, since he did not want her to know who he was.

Cupid even allowed Zephyrus to take Psyche back to her sisters and bring all three down to the palace during the day, but warning that Psyche should not listen to any argument that she should not try to discover his true form. The two jealous sisters told Psyche, then pregnant with Cupid's child, that rumor was that she had married a great and terrible serpent who would devour her and her unborn child when her time came for it to be fed. They urged Psyche to conceal a knife and oil lamp in the bedchamber, to wait till her husband was asleep, and then to light the lamp and slay him at once if it was as they said. Psyche sadly followed their advice. In the light of the lamp Psyche recognized the fair form on the bed as the god Cupid himself. However, she accidentally pricked herself with an arrow, and was consumed with desire for her husband. She began to kiss him, but as she did, a drop of oil fell from Psyche's lamp and onto Cupid's chest and he awoke. He flew away, and she fell from the window to the ground, sick at heart.

Psyche then found herself in the city where one of her jealous elder sisters lived. She told her what had happened, then tricked her sister into believing that Cupid had chosen her as a wife instead. She later met the other sister and deceived her likewise. Each returned to the top of the peak and jumped down eagerly, but Zephyrus did not bear them and they fell to their deaths at the base of the mountain.

Psyche searched far and wide for her lover, finally stumbling into a temple to Ceres where all was in slovenly disarray. As Psyche was sorting and clearing, Ceres appeared, but refused any help but advice, saying Psyche must call directly on Venus, the jealous shrew that caused all the problems in the first place. Psyche next called on Juno in her temple, but Juno, superior as always, said the same. So Psyche found a temple to Venus and entered it. Venus ordered Psyche to separate all the grains in a large basket of mixed kinds before nightfall. An ant took pity on Psyche and with its ant companions separated the grains for her.

Venus was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. A river-god told Psyche that the sheep were vicious and strong and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go to the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Venus next asked for water from the Styx and Cocytus flowing from a cleft that was impossible for a mortal to attain and was also guarded by great serpents. This time an eagle performed the task for Psyche. Venus, outraged at Psyche's survival, claimed that the stress of caring for her son, made depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's lack of faith, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to the Underworld and ask Persephone, the queen of the Underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a box that Venus gave to Psyche. Psyche decided that the quickest way to the Underworld would be to throw herself off some high place and die and so she climbed to the top of a tower. But the tower itself spoke to her and told her the route through Tanaerum that would allow her to enter the Underworld alive and return again, as well as telling her how to get by Cerberus by throwing him a cracker and Charon by paying him a golden coin, how to avoid other dangers on the way there and back, and most importantly to eat of no food whatsoever; for otherwise she would dwell forever in the Underworld. Psyche followed the orders explicitly and ate nothing while beneath the earth.

However when Psyche had got out of the Underworld, she decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside, she could see no beauty; instead an infernal sleep arose from the box and overcame her. Cupid, who had forgiven Psyche, flew to her, wiped the sleep from her face, put it back in the box, and sent her back on her way. Then Cupid flew to Mount Olympus and begged Jupiter to aid them. Jupiter called a full and formal council of the gods, and declared it was his will that Cupid might marry Psyche. Jove then had Psyche fetched to Mount Olympus, and gave her a drink made from Ambrosia, granting her immortality. Although some say their daughter was named Bliss, and some say she was named Delight (in Roman mythology she was named Voluptas, which can mean either), the meaning of the name was intended to be joyful. Begrudgingly, Venus and Psyche forgave each other.

Revery (Reverie)

Lost In Her Thoughts

Spring Breeze (La Brise du Printemps)

My soul nurtures a secret, my heart a mystery,
A lasting love I conceived in a brief moment.
I bear without a word its hopeless pain's torment
And the one who caused it will know of it hardly.

Alas, I would walk near her, yet be unnoticed,
Always at her side and always will be lonely.
Thus will I pass my time on this earth so weary
Daring to ask for nothing, nothing to receive.

She, whom God has made so sweet and tender,
Goes her absent-minded way hearing nothing
Of this murmur of love raised in her steps.

Piously dutiful, unswervingly faithful,
She will say, reading these verses so filled with her,
"Who is this woman?", and will never understand!

Love Takes Flight (L'Amour s'envole)

EROS was the mischievous god of love, a minion and constant companion of the goddess Aphrodite.

The poet Hesiod first represents him as a cosmic who emerged self-born at the beginning of time to spur procreation. The same poet later describes two love-gods, Eros and Himeros (Desire), accompanying Aphrodite at her birth from the sea-foam. Some classical authors interpreted this to mean they were born of the goddess at her birth, or alongside her in the sea-foam. The scene was particular popular in art, where the pair flutter around the goddess seated in her floating conch-shell.

Eventually Eros was multiplied by ancient poets and artists into a host of Erotes or Cupids, as they are commonly called in English. The one Eros, however, remained distinct in myth. It was he who lighted the flame of love in the hearts of the gods and men, armed either with a bow and arrows or else a flaming torch. He was also the object of cult. Eros was often portrayed as a child, the disobedient, but fiercely loyal, son of Aphrodite.

In ancient vase painting Eros is depicted as either a handsome youth or as a child. His attributes were varied: from the usual bow and arrows, to the gifts of a lover--a hare, a sash, or a flower. Sculptors preferred the image of the bow-armed boy, whereas mosaic artists favored the figure of a winged putto (plump baby).


By Clark Ashton Smith

Men say the gods have flown;
The Golden Age is but a fading story,
And Greece was transitory:
Yet on this hill hesperian we have known
The ancient madness and the ancient glory.

Under the thyrse upholden,
We have felt the thrilling presence of the god,
And you, Bacchante, shod
With moonfire, and with moonfire all enfolden,
Have danced upon the mystery-haunted sod.

With every autumn blossom,
And with the brown and verdant leaves of vine,
We have filled your hair divine;
From the cupped hollow of your delicious bosom
We have drunk wine, Bacehante, purple wine.

About us now the night
Grows mystical with gleams and shadows cast
By moons for ever past;
And in your steps, O dancer of our delight,
Wild phantoms move, invisible and fast.

Behind, before us sweep
Maenad and Bassarid in spectral rout
With many an unheard shout;
Cithaeron looms with every festal steep
Over this hill resolved to dream and doubt.

What Power flows through us,
And makes the old delirium mount amain,
And brims each ardent vein
With passion and with rapture perilous?
Dancer, of whom our votive hearts are fain,

You are that magic urn
Wherefrom is poured the pagan gramarie;
Until, accordantly,
Within our bardic blood and spirit burn
The dreams and fevers of antiquity.

Daisies (Paquerettes)

Little Shepherdess (Petite Bergere)

Reflection (Reflexion)

After the Bath (Après le Bain)

Bather (Baigneuse)

Flora and Zephyr ( Flore et Zephyre)

Zephyrus was the lover of Flora. Milton alludes to them in "Paradise Lost," where he describes Adam waking and contemplating Eve still asleep.

"...He on his side
Leaning half raised, with looks of cordial love,
Hung over her enamoured, and beheld
Beauty which; whether waking or asleep,
Shot forth peculiar graces; then with voice,
Mild as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes,
Her hand soft touching, whispered thus: 'Awake!
My fairest, my espoused, my latest found,
Heaven's last, best gift, my ever-new delight.'"

Zephyrus (the West wind), who was fond of Hyacinthus and jealous of Apollo, blew Appolo's arrow off course to kill Hyacinthus (since she was mortal) Zephyrus was also in love with Flora (a Goddess).

Youth (Jeunesse)

Madam the Countess of Cambaceres (Madame la Comtesse de Cambaceres)

Portrait of Miss Brissac (Portrait de Mlle Brissac)

Twilight (Le crepuscule)

Lady Maxwell

The Bohemian (Bohémienne)

The Dance (La danse)

The Knitter (Tricoteuse)

After the Bath (Après le Bain)

Pastoral (Pastorale)

Waiting (L'attente)

Portrait of Madame Olry-Roederer

The Secret (Le secret)

The Newborn Lamb (L'agneau nouveau-né)

Young Shepherdess (Jeune Bergere)

A young shepherdess stands challenging the viewer, staff in hand. Bouguereau used a play on words when naming this painting, for the shepherdess is not only standing up, but also standing her ground, made evident by her bold and confident look. When the title is read in its original French form, it reads Jeune Bergere Debout. The use of 'debout' adds an additional play on words to the meaning, as it is very similar to the word 'debut', meaning a first prominent public appearance. In the late 1800's the word was commonly associated with the debut of a debutant. Bouguereau is saying quite clearly here that this young shepherdess is just as good as any debutant from high society, and is once again elevating the lower class to equality with that of the aristocracy.

Wet Cupid (L'Amour Mouille)

The Two Sisters (Les Deux Soeurs)

The Seashell (Le Coquillage)

Work Interrupted (Le Travail Interrompu)


At the Edge of the Brook (Au Bord du Ruisseau)

Little girl holding apples in her hands (Petite fille tenant des pommes dans les mains)

Gypsy Girl with a Basque Drum (Bohemienne au Tambour de Basque)

Young Priestess (Jeune Prêtresse)

The Broken Pitcher (La Cruche Cassée)

Little beggars (Petites mendiantes)

The Remorse of Orestes (Les Remords d’Oreste)

Shepherdess (Pastourelle)

A Soul in Heaven (Une âme au ciel)

The Crab (Le crabe)

Italian Girl Drawing Water (Jeune Italienne puisant de l'eau)

Head of a little girl (Étude: tête de petite fille)

Far Niente


Not too Much to Carry (Fardeau Agreable)


A Dream of Spring (Rêve de printemps)

Before the Bath (Avant le bain)

Young woman contemplating two embracing children (Jeune femme contemplant deux enfants qui s'embrassent)

Head of a young girl (Étude: tête de jeune fille)


Psyche (Psyché)


TO possess strong feelings and amiable affections, and to express them with a nice discrimination, has been the attribute of many female writers; some of whom have also participated with the author of Psyche in the unhappy lot of a suffering frame and a premature death. Had the publication of her poems served only as the fleeting record of such a destiny, and as a monument of private regret, her friends would not have thought themselves justified in displaying them to the world. But when a writer intimately acquainted with classical literature, and guided by a taste for real excellence, has delivered in polished language such sentiments as can tend only to encourage and improve the best sensations of the human heart, then it becomes a sort of duty in surviving friends no longer to withhold from the public such precious relics.

The copies of Psyche printed for the author in her lifetime were borrowed with avidity, and read with delight; and the partiality of friends has been already outstripped by the applause of admirers.

The smaller poems which complete this volume may perhaps stand in need of that indulgence which a posthumous work always demands when it did not receive the correction of the author. They have been selected from a larger number of poems, which were the occasional effusion of her thoughts, or productions of her leisure, but not originally intended or pointed out by herself for publication.

Psyche or The Legend of Love: 1805


The daughter of Miletus, founder of Milete. She fell in love with her twin brother Caunus, who fled from her. She followed him throughout Asia Minor until she died from exhaustion and grief, and was changed into a constantly flowing spring.


Study of a woman, for Offering to Love (Etude d'une femme, pour Offrande à l'Amour)

The Countess de Montholon (La Comtesse de Montholon)

Sketch of a Young Woman

Source: Art Renewal Center

This page is the work of Senex Magister

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