William Bouguereau was awarded the Grand Prix in September 1850, and winning the coveted prize allowed him to spend the next three years in the glorious Villa des Medicis in Rome. During this time, he fully immersed himself in the treasures of the Italian Renaissance as well as traveled widely throughout the country, to Florence, Bologna, Sienna and elsewhere. When Bouguereau returned from his sojourn in Italy, his reputation as one of the Ecole des Beaux Art's leading artists was already established. He began submitting his work to the Salon on a regular basis and would do so until his death in 1905, leaving an astounding body of work that encompassed over seven hundred finished paintings. Greatly respected by his fellow artists, Bouguereau was elected president of the painting section of the Salon in 1881. In 1883, he was elected president of the Society of Painters, Architects, Sculptors, Engravers and Designers, a society formed to help struggling artists and he retained this position until his death. His influence spread through his teaching of drawing at the Ecole, a position he was awarded in 1888. In 1875, he began teaching at the Academie Julian, an art school independent of the Ecole, which enabled the master to influence an even broader number of students. Bougureau's influence upon art education in France in the second half of the 19th Century cannot be underestimated and many of the most talented artists of the period were indebted to the great artist.
Chansons de printemps is a monumental and important work from the artist working at the height of his powers. His reputation established, Bouguereau worked tirelessly to perfect his ability to present a world of the ideal on canvas.
In what he referred to as his 'fantasy paintings' Bouguereau sought to create a dreamlike world and in so doing, sing of feminine grace, an Ode to Beauty.
In these paintings, Bouguereau borrowed the ideals of form and contour from ancient Greek and Roman statuary as well as from the great masters of the Renaissance, particularly Raphael. Marius Vachon reports that in his interview with the artist, Bouguereau claimed to fine constant inspiration in antiquity, which his eagerly transferred onto canvas because it provided an inexhaustible source for exploring themes of ideal beauty. These compositions radiate a brilliant, jewel-like tonality and with rare skill, the artist renders the flesh of a woman which is both idealized and true to reality.
Chansons de printemps depicts a young girl seated at the base of a rocky slope in the heart of a woodland glade. Flowers bloom at her feet, an image of the renewal of spring. She is flanked by two putti who softly whisper impish suggestions in her ears and her heart wakes up, little by little, to love.
Bouguereau was clearly very pleased with this particular work, and chose it as his entry into the World Exposition in Paris in 1889 (no. 161). This painting represents the first appearance of Gabrielle Druzner in the artist's oeuvre. The artist had asked the beautiful actress to pose for him beginning in 1887 and after her debut in the present work she appeared in many of his paintings, the most famous of which is Le Guepier.
Chansons de printemps was photographed by Braun & Clement (cat. no. 3225) and was engraved in double-folio format by Goujean (published by Max Williams & Co. New York, London and Paris.)
This image also served as inspiration to the glass-master Louis Comfort Tiffany and became the motif of one of his most famous windows. (fig. )
We are grateful to Damien Bartoli for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Damien Bartoli with the assistance of Fred Ross, the Bouguereau Committee and the Art Renewal Center.
(fig. 1) William Adolphe Bouguereau, Self-Portrait, 1879
(fig. 2) William Adolphe Bouguereau, L'Eveil du coeur, 1892, oil on cavas, sold 22 May 1997, $1,410,000.
(fig. 3) W. Bouguereau, Study for Chansons d'Amour, pencil on paper, Private Collection.
(fig. 4) A Leaded and plated Favrile Glass Windown, Tiffany Studios, circa 1895, after the oil painting Chansons de Printemps by William Bouguereau, Private Collection.