Audio: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Pandore
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
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William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)


William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
signed and dated 'W.BOUGUEREAU 1890' (lower left)
oil on canvas
36½ x 25½ in. (92.5 x 64.5 cm.)
The artist.
with Chaine & Simonson, Paris, 28 July 1891, acquired directly from the above.
Laura A. Clubb, Kaw City, Oklahoma.
Gifted from the above to The Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1947.
Their sale; Phillips, Son & Neale, New York, 29 October 1982, lot 72.
with Kurt Schon Galleries, New Orleans.
Private collection, Seattle, Washington.
with Callan Fine Art, New Orleans Louisiana.
Private collection, Austin, Texas.
C. Franqueville, Le premier siècle de l'Institut de France, vol. 1, Paris, 1895, p. 370.
M. S. Walker, William Bouguereau: A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings, New York, 1991, p. 73.
D. Bartoli and F. Ross, William Bouguereau: Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 270, no. 1890/15, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Mythology is a constant in Bouguereau's oeuvre. From his earliest depictions of Cupids to his later images of Psyche and Eros, the French Academic master excelled at portraying the dramatic lives of Greek and Roman gods and heroes. Along with these specific figures, Bouguereau also frequently painted narrative vignettes of anonymous men and women meant to evoke antiquity (fig. 1).

The present lot exemplifies Bouguereau's skill at combining mythology with striking portraiture. Pandore depicts the well-known story of Pandora's box. According to myth, Zeus created Pandora as the first woman on earth and then later used her as a pawn to punish the mischievous hero Prometheus who had stolen fire from heaven. Zeus sought vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus. Pandora arrived with what was originally described as a jar, but over the years has become defined as a box, given to her by Zeus with strict instructions never to lift the lid. Overcome by curiosity, Pandora opened the vessel and out came the evils of the world. Terrified, she hastened to close the container, but it was too late, all that was left in the bottom was the Spirit of Hope, also known as Elpis.

This theatrical tale of revenge appealed to the sensibilities of Pre-Raphaelite artists. Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicted a radiant femme-fatale Pandora (fig. 2) while his contemporary John William Waterhouse presented a sweet but suggestive figure carefully peering into an elaborate gold box (fig. 3).

In Bouguereau's interpretation of the myth, Pandora appears almost luminescent against a stark dark background. Clothed only in a white robe, meant to suggest those worn in Classical times, a startled Pandora has just opened her perilous gold box. Eyes wide, she gazes into the distance at the evils she has just unleashed into the world. She stands aghast with a perfectly articulated hand at her chest, seemingly paralyzed by her irrevocable deed. With great economy, Bouguereau manages a compelling portrait of human suffering that remains timely despite being wrapped in ancient robes.

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