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‘Bouguereau & America’ Exhibition Hits the West Coast

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Art and Literature, 1867. Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 × 42 1/2 in. Collection of the Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, New York USA

The San Diego Museum of Art presents the traveling exhibition Bouguereau & America, featuring nearly 40 paintings by the popular French academic artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). On view now through March 15, 2020, this exhibition reexamines the work of this long-neglected artist and allows a view unencumbered by a modernist bias.

Bouguereau & America showcases the master’s traditional use of composition, form and subject matter, bringing to life paintings of goddesses, heroes, shepherdesses and nymphs, including the beloved work The Young Shepherdess (1885), drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition is the first in nearly 30 years to bring together many of the artist’s most important works, including A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros (ca. 1880); Art & Literature (1867); Homer and His Guide (1874); and Washerwomen of Fouesnant (1869).

Beginning from detailed pencil drawings and oil sketches, Bouguereau’s large-scale paintings placed an emphasis on the female body, while capturing the beauty and innocence of each of his subjects – noble peasants, young women and children. American art collectors and society’s wealthiest were drawn to Bouguereau’s style of work for his ability to portray the less fortunate in an idyllic and timeless setting, particularly during the late 1800s through the early 20th century during the rise of industrialization. Due to his remarkable popularity, Bouguereau’s work became fundamental in the formation of many U.S. art museums’ collections.

Despite having been sought after for his flawless technique and sensual themes, Bouguereau’s reputation declined with the introduction of Impressionism – the first modern art movement emphasizing an artist’s use of color, tone and texture and the practice of painting outdoors. Artists rebelled against the strictures and conventions of the academy that embraced Bouguereau, rejecting conventional or allegorical depictions of subject matter in mythological settings. The arc of Bouguereau’s rise and fall serves as a prime example of the power society has in shaping preferences in the art world.

“Bouguereau & America showcases the remarkable popularity of one of the greatest artists from the late 19th century,” said Roxana Velásquez, Maruja Baldwin Executive Director of The San Diego Museum of Art. “Ostracized for nearly a century, this exhibition is an opportunity to view Bouguereau with a different lens, reflecting on how the shift in tastes, beliefs, morals, and desires of society shape the path of art.”

A full-color exhibition catalogue published by Yale University Press accompanies the exhibition. Additionally, a wide variety of programming will complement the show, including performances by the San Diego Ballet, San Diego Opera, La Harptette, Art of Élan, as well as a screening of Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film The Age of Innocence and much more.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Bouguereau & America is co-organized by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Co-curators are Dr. Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, and Dr. Stanton Thomas, former Curator of European and Decorative Arts, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, now Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida.

At The San Diego Museum of Art, the site curator for Bouguereau & America is Dr. Michael Brown, the Museum’s Curator of European Art.

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