• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 12143

    19th Century European Art

    26 October 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 26

    William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)



    William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
    signed and dated 'W-BOVGVEREAV-1901' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    45 5/8 x 26 ¼ in. (115.9 x 66.7 cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    During his lifetime, William Bouguereau enjoyed an extraordinary level of commercial success, earning many devoted followers and wealthy patrons. This success was due in part to his exceptional skill as a draftsman and painter, but was also the product of his acumen in regard to the taste of his clientèle. Early in his career, upon the advice of his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, Bouguereau made the decision to turn away from large religious commissions and moved toward the type of image which appealed to his wealthy collectors.

    L’Attente is a late expression of the subject matter that appealed to Bouguereau throughout his long artistic career. The painting is a fantasie, or a theme inspired by Antiquity. These Greco-Roman subjects had been favorites of the artist from the very beginning of his career, starting from his Prix de Rome days in the 1850s.

    Although it dates from 1901, L’Attente clearly demonstrates that Bouguereau’s artistic talent did not wane in the artist's twilight years. Indeed, many of Bouguereau's most successful and complex compositions date from the early years of the 20th century. At this time the demand for the artist’s work had never been greater. His son-in-law, Georges Vincens, in a letter to his wife Henriette in 1901 writes, ‘Your father is well; there is no need to tell you he is working!...It is unbelievable how many paintings he has done! Simon took them all, and resold every one to Knoedler. Off to America with them!’ L’Attente was clearly among this group of paintings that were sold directly to Knoedler and sent to New York. Mrs. George High of Chicago was the first of the American owners of L’Attente, carrying on the tradition of America’s elite collecting the most critically acclaimed and popular art of the era – the paintings of William Bouguereau.

    The image of a beautiful young girl dressed in a pure-white chiton appears frequently throughout the artist’s oeuvre, but the addition of the mountainous landscape behind her is a motif to which the artist turned in the later year of his life. The mountains in the background, executed in the softest of lavenders and green, lend an air or mystery and quiet contemplation to the serene figure of the young woman. Her gaze into the far distance draws the viewer into her world, while the interplay of shadows and light in her garment results in one of Bouguereau’s most successful symphonies of white and grey, a juxtaposition of monochromatic color tones for which Bouguereau possessed a unique talent.

    These scenes from Antiquity including Muses, ancient families, and images of priestesses and guardians of temples appear consistently throughout the artist’s long career, indicating that there was a significant demand for this type of subject matter, particularly from his American clients.

    The young girl who posed for this painting was also Bouguereau’s inspiration for Jeune prêtesse (fig. 1), La vague and La Vierge à l’agneau. Although her identity is not known, it is quite likely she was from one of the art communities active in Paris at the end of the 19th century.


    The artist.
    with Arthur Tooth and Sons, Paris and London, acquired directly from the above.
    with M. Knoedler & Co., New York, by June 1902.
    Mrs. Amanda F. Farlin, Chicago, by March 1903.
    Mrs. George High, Chicago, by 1925.
    Private collection, Cincinnati, by 1955.
    By descent to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Catalogue Braun & Clément, no. 5233, illustrated.
    L. Blayot, 'William Bouguereau,' Médaillons bordelais, series 3, no. 65, Bordeaux, published anonymously.
    M. S. Walker, William Bouguereau-A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings, Borghi & Co, New York, 1991, p. 75.
    D. Bartoli and F. Ross, William Bouguereau: Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 132, no. 1901/11, illustrated, p. 347.


    Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2007-2016. (on loan)

    Recommended features