Bouguereau: An Evocation of Twilight

05/04/2022     General Paintings


NEW YORK, NY -- One of the leading artists of the academic tradition, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1826-1905) exhibited yearly at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris for most of his working life. He stands out as a titan in the history of figurative painting, a master draughtsman who throughout his career remained devoted to technical precision and to the classical subjects that played a paramount role in his art. Working just as a new wave of modernism was moving away from religious and mythological themes, Bouguereau remained steadfast both in his reverence for naturalism and in his quest to portray human emotion in painting. From peasants to goddesses, Bouguereau painted romanticized or highly idealized figures that not only capture the imagination but create powerful human connections between the viewer and his subjects.

Although he enjoyed a great reputation and commercial success into the late nineteenth century, Bouguereau is still somewhat overlooked in the common narrative of art history, which praises the pictorial ideas of the Impressionists and contemporary or subsequent avant-garde groups over the naturalism and idealization of salon painting. In spite of this lack of recognition, Bouguereau continues to be acknowledged as one of the most important figures in nineteenth-century painting and today holds wide appeal for viewers with a more traditional taste.

The female form and its natural expressions are the cornerstones of Bouguereau’s artistic practice. Not only is this felt in his more realist works, but also in those that descend into reverie. In the early 1880's, Bouguereau painted a series of four works representing the times of the day. The version of Le crépuscule that will be offered at Doyle on May 11, 2022 is a reduction of a large-scale painting of the same title, which the artist exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 and which currently resides in the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, Cuba. Bouguereau frequently painted smaller versions of important canvases which served as faithful copies from which engravers could produce reproduction plates without delaying the sale of the larger works. The artist's studio, which included such accomplished painters as Pierre August Cot and Gustave Doyen, often contributed to these works under Bouguereau's careful direction. Produced under his perfectionistic technical supervision and with his methodical approach to painting, these smaller canvases delight in their exquisite attention to form and composition.

Le crépuscule is a celebration of feminine beauty and grace. This personification of Twilight hovers quietly above the water, half-nude, draped in a dark veil-like cloth that anticipates the coming night. While a bright, delicate crescent moon floats in the calm sky, the figure assumes an elegant stance that creates a graceful line from her neck to her hand, in a brilliant display of the artist's command of contour. The warmth of the setting sun fills the air above the dark sea and cloud formations, just as the subtle glow of the figure's flesh harmonizes with the translucent drapery that cloaks her form. Her foot grazes the water and is mirrored in its reflection, just visible in the last of the day’s light. There is a softness to her skin that reminds the viewer of the artist’s achievement in light and shadow, and a perfect harmony to the composition that is quintessential to Bouguereau’s best work.

Impressionist & Modern Art
Auction May 11, 2022 at 11am
Exhibition May 7 - 9

Lot 7
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905) and Studio
Le Crepuscule (Dusk)
Signed W-BOUGUEREAU (ll)
Oil on canvas
49 3/4 x 26 inches (126.4 x 66 cm)

Sold by the artist, February 1882
Goupil et Cie., Paris, 1882
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Estate of Winthrop B. Palmer, New York
Sale, Sotheby's, New York, Oct. 23, 1990, lot 65

Goupil, Boussod & Valladon sales register, no. 15908
Charles Vendryès, Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1885, p. 63
Mark Steven Walker, William Bouguereau: A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings, William-Adolphe Bouguereau: L'Art Pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1991, p. 72
Ludovic Baschet, Catalogue illustré des oeuvres de W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1885, p. 63
Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 155
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, no. 1882/01A, p. 212-213, illus.
Estimate: $70,000-100,000