In the May 1879 issue of the arts journal L'Art Contemporain, the chronicler Adrien Désamy observed that 'it is said that no one is better versed than Victor Hugo to speak of women and children, one can similarly exclaim, that in our times, no one is more skilled to paint women and children like M. Bouguereau.'
Having been raised in the countryside, Bouguereau found the simple and rustic lives of peasants an attractive subject for his paintings, allowing him a deeper exploration of the human psyche. As an academician, he immersed himself in classical painting and sculpture, making an in-depth study into form and technique, while portraying tenderness and passion in his childhood and domestic scenes.
His poignant portrayals of children and young girls firmly established his reputation as an artist and raised the demand for such paintings. In his sentimental evocation of youth, he conveys the ideals of beauty, purity and hope that were central to his artistic philosophy. His idealized vision of common folk endorsed a more glorified vision of life in the country, one later copied by followers such as Emile Munier and Jules Lefebvre.
Here, Bouguereau depicts a village girl, sitting on what is probably the doorstep of her home. She is doing her homework with a pensive demeanor and is barely distracted by the spectator who is witness to her contemplation. The appeal of the work lies in the artist's ability to infuse a prosaic subject with a poetic sensibility.
Every summer Bouguereau would work diligently 'without being able to be a single day without my dear painting'. He would return from these trips with five to eight canvases each season. His models were chosen from the midst of families in La Rochelle and surrounding villages.
We are grateful to Damien Bartoli for confirming the authenticity of this work.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Bouguereau catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Damien Bartoli with the assistance of Fred Ross, the Bouguereau Committee and the Art Renewal Center.