innocence revisited

 

 

"It is good to note, in any case, that dirt and rags are not exclusive to the underprivileged and that indigence is not always clothed the same way."  --Bouguereau Child at Bath

Child at Bath, 1886

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Those little noble savages

Bouguereau is famous for his depictions of peasant children, mostly girls. As the movement of Romanticism would dictate, the country peasants lived a noble, pure life.   The country folk were revered for their simple, uncomplicated lives, untainted by the evils of  city life.  Although a peasant's life was often centered around the church and many of the secular distractions of city life were not available in the countryside, the Romantic's view of peasantry was idealized.  Often overlooked was the poverty, disease, and poor living conditions.  In a time when monarchy and republicanism were battling it out in political rebellion, society tended to hallow the individual, have a desire to bring social injustices to light, and idealize the innocence of simple lifestyles.

So how does this relate to our man?

These motivations were no different for Bouguereau.  He was a man with a deep social conscience.  Greatly disturbed by the political upheavals all around Europe, Bouguereau made an emotional decision to not directly confront the rebellions in his works.  Instead, he found ways to use the peasant children as a theme to expose social injustices. 

Just tell it like it is

Between 1840 and 1880, Realism was taking hold with artists like Courbet, Daumier, and particularly Millet in our case of the depiction of the peasant.   These men insisted that not only should subjects of art be presented with no idealizations, but they should also only come from present life.  "Painting is an essentially concrete art, and can only consist of the presentation of real and existing things. (Courbet)"  Classical, Medieval, and Mythological themes were out!   Depictions of the working class, rural landscapes, and peasants were in!

So why are their feet clean?

When we look at Bouguereau's peasant children, it is true that they wear no shoes, and are clothed in simple fabrics.  However... Why are their feet clean? Why are their clothes not torn and dirty?  Why do they look adequately fed?  Why do their bodies not show the signs of difficult and long farm labor?

Riding the fence

Although Bouguereau embraced the Romantic's idea of the noble life of a peasant, he did not subscribe to the notion of Realism.  As a Pompier painter and teacher, he clung tightly to the works of the masters, especially Ingres.  His ideas regarding his idealism can be best explained in his own words... 

"In painting, I'm an idealist.  I see only the beautiful in art and, for me, art is the beautiful.  Why reproduce what is ugly in nature?  I don't see why it should be necessary.  Painting what one sees just as it is, no -- or at least, not unless one is immensely gifted.  Talent is all-redeeming and can excuse anything.   Nowadays painters go much too far, just as writers and realist novelists do.   There is no way of telling where they'll draw the line.  I prefer poets, each to his own taste."

 

image: The Bohemian

The Bohemian, 1890

 

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of boyhood changing into man;
The unfinished man and his pain
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness

-- Yeats, from A Dialogue of Self and Soul

 

By the Brook
By
the
Brook
1875
The Pet Bird
The
Pet
Bird
1867
The Broken Pitcher
The
Broken
Pitcher
1891
Fraternal Love
Fraternal
Love
1851
Innocence
Innocence
1893
The Elder Sister
The
Elder
Sister
c. 1864

The Shepherdess
The
Shepherdess
1889
The Little Beggar Girls
The
Little
Beggar
Girls
1890
The Knitting Girl
The
Knitting
Girl
1869
Meditation
Meditation
1885
Little Marauders
Little
Marauders
1872
The Crown of Flowers
The
Crown of
Flowers
1884
Childhood Idyll
Childhood
Idyll
1900
The Shepherdess
The
Shepherdess
1873

Rest in Harvest
Rest in
Harvest
1865

Home | Innocence Revisited | Maternal Contentment
Desires of the Flesh | Religious Transcendence | Lonesome Mortality

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