William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
Property of a Private Collector

Retour des champs

Retour des champs
signed and dated 'W-BOVGVEREAV-1898' (lower left)
oil on canvas
50 ¼ x 27 ¾ in. (127.6 x 70.5 cm.)
The artist.
with Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., Paris and New York, acquired directly from the above, 5 December 1898.
with M. Knoedler & Co., New York, acquired directly from the above, 7 December 1898.
John Englis, Jr. (1833-1915), Brooklyn, acquired directly from the above, 4 April 1899.
Charles Mortimer Englis (1856-1926), Brooklyn, his son, by descent.
His estate sale; The Anderson Galleries, New York, 23-24 November 1926, lot 143, as "Who's Coming".
John H. Emmanuel.
By descent to his heirs.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 19 February 1992, lot 63.
with Richard Green, London.
Private collection, New Jersey, acquired directly from the above.
By descent to the present owner.
M. Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 160.
M. S. Walker, 'A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings,' in William Bouguereau: l’art pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1991, p. 74.
D. Bartoli and F. Ross, William Bouguereau: His Life and Works, New York, 2010, p. 389, pl. 248, illustrated.
D. Bartoli and F. Ross, William Bouguereau: Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 325, no. 1898/12, illustrated.

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Laura H. Mathis
Laura H. Mathis VP, Specialist, Head of Sale

Lot Essay

In the last quarter of the 19th century, American collectors had an almost insatiable appetite for the work of William Bouguereau. Made up of entrepreneurs and tycoons, this group of millionaires was eager to decorate their new mansions with iconic compositions that demonstrated a high level of quality and artistic virtuosity. Their taste eventually laid the foundation for many American museum collections and forged a visual identity for America which was taken up by early cinematography, which relied on the work of many of the late 19th century painters and frequently turned to Bouguereau’s draped goddesses and peasant children for inspiration.
This sustained interest of American collectors was carefully nurtured by the French dealer Paul Durand Ruel and then expanded by Adolphe Goupil, Durand Ruel’s closest competitor in Paris. In the 1860s, at the encouragement of Durand Ruel, Bouguereau made the fortuitous decision to shift his choice of subjects away from large religious commissions, and the artist moved toward a type of image more easily consumed by his American wealthy American collectors. In particular, he embraced the late 19th century fascination with rural life, concentrating on images of young girls depicted in the French countryside. Social accuracy was not his concern and the world presented in Bouguereau’s canvases was far rosier than the harsh realities of those who lived outside the cities. Fronia Wissman writes: ‘Bouguereau and the well-to-do collectors who acquired his paintings preferred to see these children as picturesque outsiders, facts of daily life perhaps, but poignant rather than threatening’ (F. Wissman, Bouguereau, San Francisco, 1996, p. 51).
Retour des champs is a perfect illustration of the popular rustic scenes that appealed to both Bouguereau and his devoted clientele throughout his long career. The 1898 date is a testament to the artist’s lifelong interest in these subjects, and Bouguereau delighted in choosing contemporary genre subjects and his heroine was the humble peasant girl from the farm or countryside. These pastoral scenes of a single peasant girl in a landscape was clearly the subject matter for which Bouguereau was most popular, resulting in commercial and financial success for the artist, who died a very rich man in 1905.
The young girl depicted in Retour des champs is Yvonne, one of Bouguereau’s favorite models. She and her two sisters, Jeanne and Marguerite, provided inspiration for many of Bouguereau’s works painted in La Rochelle from 1893 on. While little is known about their personal biographies, the growth of all three girls is documented in Bouguereau’s oeuvre through a decade of compositions, as well as the occasional photograph taken in the artist’s studio (fig. 1). From Yvonne's first appearance in Allant à la fontaine, 1893 (J. B. Speed Museum, Louisville, Kentucky) to Les petites amies, 1898, (Collection of Fortnum and Mason) and the present work, it is clear that Bouguereau sought not only to portray her likeness, but also to capture her distinct personality. While many of the artist’s other sitters often appear distracted by their thoughts and daydreams with their gaze drifting outside of the picture plane, Yvonne is almost always depicted with a direct look that connects with the viewer and shows a clear expression of emotion and intelligence.

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