July 6, 2007 - October 14, 2007
William-Adolphe Bouguereau's reputation has swung from the heights of worldwide success to the depths of scholarly and public neglect. In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in his work as well as acknowledgment of his great contributions as a teacher. In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students brings together 50 paintings, drawings and prints by Bouguereau and several of his prominent American students, including Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), Minerva Chapman (1858-1947), Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936), Elizabeth Gardner (1837-1922), Robert Henri (1865-1929), and Anna Klumpke (1856-1942). Organized by the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, the exhibition includes many important works by Bouguereau and his students from American public and private collections and is the first to examine Bouguereau's role as an influential teacher. The exhibition is on view at The Frick Art Museum through October 14, 2007.
In his lifetime, French academic artist, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) was considered one of the greatest painters in the world, and he was certainly one of the most commercially successful. A student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he won the Prix de Rome in 1850, and his realistic genre paintings and mythological scenes were exhibited at annual exhibitions of the Paris Salon for his entire working life. Although he fell into disregard in the twentieth century-due perhaps to his staunch opposition to the Impressionists-there is now a new regard for his work.
The revival of interest in academic art over the last 30 years has helped to resuscitate Bouguereau's reputation. His highly finished, startlingly crisp renderings of idealized pastoral and mythological themes were popular worldwide, and many crossed the Atlantic to join American collections. His genre scenes of beautiful young Italian and French peasants, such as The Young Shepherdess, 1885, held a nostalgic appeal for collectors living in industrial cities of Europe and America. Bouguereau's fame in America coincided with the establishment of great art collections by wealthy American capitalists. Pittsburgh businessmen were no exception. French galleries, such as Durand-Ruel, would regularly hold exhibitions in Pittsburgh. It was reported of one Pittsburgh showing by Durand-Ruel in 1897 that so many pieces were sold, the exhibition had to be rehung.
Bouguereau's painting La Petite Vendangeuse sold for $5,000 in 1883, setting a record for the price paid for a work of art in Pittsburgh. What has been termed a "Bouguereau epidemic" spread from household to household in Pittsburgh. In the 1890s, close to 24 Pittsburgh homes contained works by Bouguereau, making him the most popular artist among area collectors. The French dealer Goupil and Company had a branch in New York, and was the primary source of Bouguereau's work in America. Goupil's successor in America, M. Knoedler and Co., established a gallery on Wood Street in Pittsburgh in 1897, when Bouguereau was at the height of his fame.
It was also a common practice at that time for wealthy collectors to visit artists and buy works directly from them. On July 20, 1895, the Frick family called on Bouguereau in his studio. The artist inscribed a photograph of his painting Espièglerie (the mischievous one) to Helen Clay Frick as a memento of their visit. Frick bought the painting of the fair-haired young girl, but it has not remained in the collection.
Many aspiring American artists saw Bouguereau's work in public and private collections and were eager to travel to Paris-then the center of the art world-to learn from the master. Nineteenth-century American artists understood that to truly advance in their careers, they had to study in Paris. Bouguereau was a devoted teacher and mentor who attracted thousands of students. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, he provided instruction and criticism to well over 200 American students, most of whom attended the private Académie Julian in Paris where he taught.
The Académie Julian did not require entrance exams or fluency in French, therefore was very popular with foreign students, especially Americans. The academic system taught there was based on developing proficiency in drawing from the model, as figurative work was considered the highest form of art and good draftsmanship was considered the foundation of painting. To train with Bouguereau was to receive a solid foundation in drawing and painting the figure from life, and also, if successful, to gain access to the higher levels of the art world. Bouguereau's success at the Paris Salon and his position in its organization played no small part in his popularity as a teacher. Bouguereau was also instrumental in getting the doors to the academies opened to female students. He advocated for the inclusion of female students in the art academies and his prominence as a teacher and high-profile artist made him an important ally to many women artists.
His most ardent follower was Elizabeth Gardner, who became his most faithful student and eventually his wife. Elizabeth Jane Gardner (1837-1922) left Exeter, New Hampshire for Paris in 1864. Of limited means, she was determined to make a living from a career in art and had her first painting accepted at the Paris Salon in 1868. Other wealthy women students, like Mary Cassatt or Minerva Chapman, could pay for private instruction, but for a woman of Gardner's position, there was little serious instruction available. Like Rosa Bonheur before her, Gardner dressed as a man to gain access to free drawing classes that were open to men only. Due to arcane regulations put in place as a result of the French Revolution, Gardner had to apply to the Paris police for authorization to dress in men's clothes. Of this experience she observed, "This subterfuge procured me the means of studying from life in the company of strong draughtsmen, and to it I am indebted for whatever virility there may be in my drawing."
Gardner is represented by five works in the exhibition, and paintings, such as Daphnis and Chloe, 1882, aptly illustrate the similarity of her subject and style to that of her teacher. However, Gardner was the only American student who consciously took up Bouguereau's style; students came instead to draw and learn technique. Stylistic imitation was viewed negatively and Gardner was criticized for the close affinity of her style to Bouguereau's. The majority of American artists who took criticism from Bouguereau, such as Couse, Klumpke, Chapman, Lawton Parker, and Walter Schofield, developed personal styles that were informed by Bouguereau's methods, techniques, and subjects. In fact, Pennsylvania artist Walter Schofield went on to paint light-filled landscapes and became known as a leader of the Pennsylvania Impressionist tradition. Henry Clay Frick purchased a Schofield landscape that is still in the Frick Art & Historical Center's collection.
Robert Henri, a student of Bouguereau's for four years, repudiated academic art later in his life. He was a founding member of the anti-academic group, the Eight, and the guiding spirit of the Ashcan School. However, Henri's role as a prominent teacher who provided his students with a solid grounding in basic technique and his focus on the figure are reminiscent of Bouguereau.
The development of Eanger Irving Couse's personal style can be traced in this exhibition from an early Salon picture, At the Cross, 1889, painted when he was Bouguereau's student. While its peasant theme is close in subject and style to his teacher's, the composition already shows a strong sense of abstract design that diverges from Bouguereau. Couse is represented by two works in his mature style of more painterly and colorful compositions, depicting Native Americans of the Southwest. Like Robert Henri, Couse traveled to the Southwest where Native Americans embodied the natural dignity and innocence represented by Bouguereau's peasants.
EXHIBITION ORGANIZATION AND CATALOGUE
In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students was organized by The Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Frick Art Museum is the last stop on its national tour. The exhibition was curated by James F. Peck, Ruth G. Hardman Curator of European and American Art at the Philbrook.
A richly illustrated catalogue, published by The Philbrook Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, is available in the Museum Shop at the Frick Visitor Center. The price of the catalogue is $50 hardcover ($45 for Frick members) and $39.95 softcover ($35.96 for Frick members). The catalogue documents key academic works in American collections and each work in the exhibition is illustrated in color with accompanying discussion. Essays and entries by curator James Peck and leading scholars in the field provide an historical context for appreciating the paintings and drawings in the exhibition.
THE FRICK ART MUSEUM
The Frick Art Museum at the Frick Art & Historical Center contains collections of fine and decorative arts assembled by Helen Clay Frick, daughter of Henry Clay Frick. In addition to exhibiting its permanent collection, which has strengths in Italian Renaissance and French eighteenth-century painting, the Museum has an active program of temporary exhibitions.
The Frick Art & Historical Center is located at 7227 Reynolds Street in Pittsburgh's Point Breeze neighborhood. Free parking is available in the Frick's off-street lot or along adjacent streets. The Frick is open 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday and closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the Car and Carriage Museum, Greenhouse, and Playhouse is free. A suggested donation of $5 will be requested to view In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students at The Frick Art Museum.
Docent-led tours of In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students are available with admission on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Groups of five or more and those interested in scheduling a tour of the permanent collection are requested to schedule a private tour at an alternate time. The cost for group and permanent collection tours is $7 per person, and reservations must be made one to two weeks in advance. Call (412) 371-0600, 9:00 a.m.-5:00p.m. Monday-Sunday.
Tours of Clayton are available Tuesday through Sunday; reservations are recommended. Admission is $12 for the general public and $10 for students and seniors.
For information and reservations, call 412-371-0600, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday through Sunday, or visit the Frick's Web site at www.frickart.org.