Adolphe William Bouguereau - Going to the Bath
Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905), French
Going to the Bath, undated
OIL ON CANVAS , 21 ¾ x 18 inches
Gift of Mrs. Theodora Willard Best
Academic painting, the style taught in European and American academies of art, is loosely defined as a realist aesthetic centered upon close study of the human body. The once-dominant academic style developed negative connotations during the later nineteenth century that have lingered to the present. Associated with the subordination of individual creativity to standardized technique, nineteenth-century academic art has largely disappeared from the canon of art history. Nevertheless, artists such as William Bouguereau were considered by most of their contemporaries to be the leading artistic luminaries of their time.
Bouguereau received virtually every major distinction and award available to an artist. His ascendancy lasted for most of the later century, beginning with his receipt of a second-place Rome Prize in 1850 while he was a student at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Despite that early recognition, Bouguereau found that commissions for grand historical compositions were too scarce to support him as an artist, so he turned to painting scenes of everyday life for his livelihood. Instead of complex narratives, his intimate depictions emphasize sentiment over narrative, so that each conveys a feeling rather than telling a story.
Going to the Bath portrays a secularized version of the Madonna and Child theme. Although the older girl is too young to be the baby's mother, their relationship accentuates familial nurturing. Before the later eighteenth century, children were viewed primarily as miniature adults, as shown in Van Dyke's portrait of The Children of Charles I . Bouguereau's Going to the Bath illustrates the radical change in attitudes that occurred in the interim. The artist sought to elevate his subjects by smoothing and idealizing their features, transporting them beyond the mundane concerns of the everyday.