In the years following 1875, close to one-third of Bouguereau's work was devoted to the monde paysan, perhaps fueled by the fact that the artist returned each year to La Rochelle. Very shortly after renouncing so-called 'History Painting,' Bouguereau found more and more inspiration in the peasant world in which he had grown up, and learned to know well and genuinely loved. This consistent immersion helped the artist rediscover his genuine roots.
To Bouguereau, the rusticity and the deprivation so common amongst the peasant classes were actually a pretext for the artist to pay a clear and sincere tribute to this part of the population, which to the artist represented, at that moment, the true and profound France, so often ignored by other contemporary artists. These young girls and women, whether shepherdesses, fisher girls, bohemians or even beggars, became the subject matter closest to the artist's heart.
Petite fille au bol bleu was painted during one of these vacation trips to La Rochelle. Painted in 1878/79, it was finished in October 1879 when the artist returned to his studio. Bouguereau did this often: he would add the final touches to his "vacation pictures" upon his return to Paris.
Unfortunately, the model chosen for Petite fille au bol bleu is still anonymous. However, she does appear in several painting executed from 1879 to 1880 including La petite fille au fleurs, La frileuse, Le crochet, La libellule, La petite Lécodière and Le goûter, among others.
Petite fille au bol bleu is one of the rarest works by the artist, for neither Charles Vendryhs, nor Marius Vachon, nor Franqueville catalogued it as part of the artist's oeuvre. Nevertheless, there is a clear entry regarding this painting in the artist's record books, as well as in the records of the Galerie Goupil. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a color reproduction of this painting has been published.
A black & white photograph of this painting was taken at the request of the artist, and is now in a private collection in France.
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.