Wednesday, May 14, 2014

William Bouguereau and the Anti- Avante Garde

When modernism was all the rage, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) was the most hated painter in the world. He represented all that the modernists despised -- sentimentality, mindless tradition, fawning servitude to the moneyed class. As modernism fades into the past, he reemerges. A few years ago the Getty held a mock debate over the quality of Bouguereau's work, but the prosecutor could only read a few passages from attacks written in the 1910s. His heart wasn't in the battle, and the audience was almost all in Bouguereau's camp.

Over at the Art Renewal Center, where they promote what they call "Realism" in art and pour scorn on abstraction and all its allies, they call their top prize the William Bougeureau Award. On their main page right now there are no less than five advertisements for books about Bouguerau and prints of his paintings.

And now comes the news that the work fetching the top price at Bonham's latest New York auction of nineteenth-century painting, $485,000, was Bouguereau's Portrait of Eva and Frances Johnston (above).

Tastes change.

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