Bouguereau painted Le retour du marché at the height of his artistic career. After 1868, the year in which he painted Jeune bergère and Moissonneuse, Bouguereau again uses the same model, the young girl we see in the present work of 1869. This year marked an important milestone in Bouguereau's oeuvre for it was during this period that he began to shift his focus away from the standard historical painting of the time to explore more human themes.
Having been raised in the countryside, Bouguereau found the simple and rustic life of peasants an attractive subject for his paintings allowing him a deeper exploration of the human psyche. It would be his poignant portrayals of children and young girls that would firmly establish his reputation as an artist and raise the demand for such paintings. In Bouguereau's sentimental evocation of youth, he conveys the ideals of beauty, purity and hope that were central to his artistic philosophy. His idealized portrayals of the common folk endorsed a more glorified vision of life in the country, one later copied by many of his followers such as Emile Munier and Jules Lefebvre.
Bouguereau himself was deeply indebted to the work of his earlier predecessors, particularly Gustave Courbet, whose La fille aux mouettes, Trouville, 1865 (Private Collection) offers striking parallels to the present work. A young girl similarly carries birds over her shoulder, hanging from a stick. However, while the gulls are the main compositional focus of Courbet's painting, in Le retour du marché, Bouguereau's figure takes center stage, engaging the viewer's attention with her playful smile.
To be included in the upcoming Bouguereau catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Damien Bartoli with the assistance of Frederick Ross, the Bouguereau Committee and the American Society of Classical Realism.