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

Le lever

William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
Le lever
signed and dated 'W-BOVGVEREAU/1865' (upper right)
oil on canvas
45 ½ x 35 in. (115.6 x 88.9 cm.)
The artist.
with Galerie Durand Ruel et Cie., acquired directly from the above, probably 9 May 1865.
with Hammer Galleries, New York, as La prière.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 13 January 1967.
C. Vendryès, 'Bouguereau,' Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux Arts, Bouguereau, Paris, 1885, p. 32.
M. Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 148.
M. S. Walker, 'A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings', in William Bouguereau: l’art pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1991, p. 66.
D. Bartoli and F. Ross, William Bouguereau: Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, pp. 82-83, no. 1865/02, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Beginning in 1865, Bouguereau became interested in themes of mothers and children and he began a series of paintings devoted to this subject matter. These classically informed images were greatly influenced by Bouguereau’s travels throughout Italy in the 1850s. Trekking from Naples all the way to Venice over a two year period, Bouguereau was frequently confronted by religious imagery, and was particularly impressed with the works of Raphael. Le lever is the second painting executed that year by the artist and in this work, Bouguereau has created and exploited a myriad of tender gestures a mother can extend to her child.

In a softly lit room, a young mother gently kisses the forehead of her little daughter, whose upturned face is lit by the first rays of dawn. The background of the painting is obscured in shadow, a reference to the night’s sleep which has just ended, also alluded to by the barely discernible outline of the child’s small bed in the darkness. The mother is richly dressed in an Italianate costume; her white, intricate eyelet-decorated blouse offered in sharp contrast to her rich, heavy, deep brown voluminous skirt and sash embroidered in fully saturated greens, reds and blues. Her young child is clothed completely in white, emphasizing her youth, innocence and purity. The artist has brought both figures close to the picture plane, thereby heightening the visual impact of the intensely tender interaction of the young mother and child.

Images of mothers and children abound in the artist’s oeuvre in the mid-1860s and these were clearly warmly received by Bouguereau’s already devoted clientèle. Almost all of these compositions depicting maternal tenderness were followed by at least one reduction, and the present work in fact has two. The larger of the two, executed at about half size and on canvas was followed in the same year by a very small reduction executed on wood panel. These small reductions originally served as models for the engravers, who relied on them to make quality plates for reproduction purposes and in this way, the engraver was not encumbered by oversize paintings and the engraving process was not delayed in any way. Such proliferation, of course, could only have been for commercial purposes.

As stated above, these images of mothers and children were very popular in the mid-1860s and Bouguereau was creating them in response to a specific demand by a group of foreign buyers. Between 1864 and 1866, Bouguereau sold only one work to a French buyer. However, it would be a mistake to assume that Bouguereau would in any way comprise his art for the sake of sales. For Bouguereau, the forms and visual impact are of the upmost importance, and the most basic of marketing ploys, the title, was often something that eluded him. Louis Solonet, writing in 1905, the year of Bouguereau’s death, noted: ‘For him form is the supreme object of art... For him a picture is but a theme of lines and colors. So true is this that he is often embarrassed to find titles for his canvases’ (L. Solonet, Revue des Charentes, 1905). His titles often do note describe a specific image, but rather, as in this case, an entire class of image. ‘Such a list reveals the general themes that preoccupied him – and his customers- over the years. A gentle exoticism appeared in the form of Italian or rural dress, or undress, in the case of bathers and in an emphasis on women and children. These themes are by no means original with Bouguereau. Part of his success lay in paintings images that had already proven popular with his audience and his skill at balancing the sentimentality of these subjects – which in lesser hands become trite – with fresh formal and compositional structures' (F. Wissman, Bouguereau, San Francisco, 1996, p. 36).

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