For a while, up until a few days ago I had no idea who William-Adolphe Bouguereau was and actually, I find it difficult to pronounce his name correctly.
Before I share with you the details of the beauty of this, I will reveal the crucial lesson I have learned, that is what inspires my desire to talk about art without being an art scholar the art must be viewed and experienced through the its emotions on our bodies. Our senses and our instincts are the best guide to determine if an artist can penetrate our souls. I barely knew Bouguereau's name, and if I hadn't, it would have been similar, as his paintings captivated me and touched the oldest archetypes in my life and challenged all I believed I knew about art in academia.
It is the way art works by sending us information that is not conscious that transports us to past and parallel worlds and allows us to step for a moment into the head of a stranger, who in turn is able to enter ours, without knowing us. We and him, two people who are separated in space and time and space, share the same space for a moment. Our worlds intersect and merge in the territory made by a piece of art.
Bouguereau The one who is snubbed by modernists
My mistake, however, was made by many other people before me, by those who, at the gates of modernism and after a long and acknowledged career, decided that Bouguereau wasn't adequate to be considered contemporary enough and prepared for the future or "cool" enough and, immediately, degraded him to a simple academic artist, a member among those who were Art Pompier (an expression that indicates the mastery of a technique, however it is often empty and false to the point of having bad taste) and devoid of any creativity.
Bouguereau, the one of the Pieta.
No error was greater. It's enough to glance at the painting of Pieta to understand it, to feel a feeling that goes straight into the insides. In Bouguereau's Pieta is a universal symbol which is that Christ is the symbol of the suffering of the world and the Madonna is a dark and mysterious woman, is the bearer of the truth and of Justice and conscience simultaneously She hurls in our faces the truths, painful and hidden, about the ugliness that is ours. That black dark Mary is enveloped and imprisoned by guilt, represented by the jolly characters with a somewhat dramatic look which have surrounded the dead corpse of Christ. She, dignified and angry, truly desperate, looks like a gypsy, a refugee who holds her son's body in her arms beneath the wreckage of the bombings. It's an image from the war photographer, however, we see that image on the walls of an academic of the 19th century who without too many pleasantries and smacks us on the face.
The Pieta is just an additional chapter (the last and most funereal), of a story about a woman named Mary, but it could also be a different one. The story starts with the drawing "The Madonna of the Roses, where Mary appears as a young girl, a young mother, with a round face and white hair. She does not look us in our eye, but instead looks upwards, to the sky, like someone looking for help from God or the universe, conscious of the arduous job she's just started. The task is held in her arms, a little Jesus, from whose gaze (he will, because he looks at us with his eyes) we see the importance of destiny. She wraps him around in a motherly pose, one that is practical, functional rather than emotional. The two men, sitting in front of us, seek understanding. When they are in the Pieta, that embrace becomes an embrace for a mom who cannot take the burden of her murdered son, while life slips away. This was a familiar feeling to Bouguereau, who lost three children along with his beloved wife. In the painting, as Bouguereau expresses his complete dismay, Mary declares her defeat, or rather she declares the end of the world. Prayers to heaven as well as her doubts, prompted by her awareness of her task, shatters into the certainty. Her black eyes, her hollowed-out skin, stare the culprits in the face, while the hope of humanity slips into the certainty that evil exists and that we are the ones responsible.
Bouguereau The intense one of the Academy
As I mentioned, the serious error made by modernists was to underestimate the expressive capacity of the paintings of Bouguereau. Certainly, everything in his style is academic, from the flawless technicalities which he paints naked body as well as the religious and mythological themes that are derived from Neoclassicism, from the naturalistic backgrounds , to romantic and bucolic subjects. But Bouguereau isn't just this, and it's enough to linger on the eyes of certain characters in his paintings and the full human emotion he's capable of capturing and transferring on the canvas is manifested. His contemporaries recognized this and made him an one of the more well-known artists in the 1800s. Then, with the advent of the new century, it was the Damnatio Memoriae banned him. They accused him of being too doing enough, and perhaps they had not realized that, beneath the technical structure of his artworks, Bouguereau hid chaos, pain, malice, and even seduction.
His paintings are the perfect example of the bourgeoisie: beautiful forms that hide disturbing secrets, darkness and desires that the artist is no longer able to repress. The naked is one of the means he uses to bring us back to our instinctual nature and desire to lure us in and their brightness can make us believe in a fantasy, but also in the set of a film, in which the actors are well illuminated and entice us with their. The simplest gestures become sublime (like taking off a sock, for instance); bodies pile up and stack together, and they play with each other, it's all a game of foreplay, and Bouguereau is an artist who walks a tightrope between the bourgeois education system that is looked (and is observed) at as well as the need to speak to human desires in a physical way. Both are present and it's the viewer who decides whether to look at one over the other.
It was another artist, as beautiful, sensual, like Bouguereau who, during the 1950s and 1960s, saved him from the ashes and wrote about his achievements: Salvador Dali. Dali, like many artists who were adamantly attached to the bourgeois ideal knew the secrets in the human unconscious and that you don't necessarily have to make a choice between form and content, however, you could fool the audience with magical surrealist tricks.
Bouguereau The one who knows the right dosages
Bouguereau's trick is in the right balance between sacred and profane, pure and sensuality. He also demonstrates malice as well as innocence. If you think that you're looking at the standard shepherds, the typical Venus and angels Bouguereau transcends all stereotypes, every commonplace of art. A woman defends herself against Eros, that annoying putto represents the cravings, the desires that aren't hers to approach; a shepherdess is an old woman who is a symbol of rural and popular wisdom and of those who have learned how to live their lives through practice and suffering. The Nymph who doesn't hide her feelings, but instead makes evident, with a single eye, the desire she feels for a Satyr. The gay passion is carefully placed in Dante's slums. There are so many young mothers who are who are overwhelmed by the need to take care of their children in an environment that doesn't accept them, in which they are only functional personalities. The power of the expressions that his characters give us back, and the glances they exchange with each other is immense. They appear like photos, film scenes and gracefully tell real-life tales. Realism is packed into mythical and dreamlike scenes, here are the real world, in its complex simplicity.
Bouguereau, the one who paints with human archetypes
My impression is that Bouguereau is extremely aware of human archetypes, social patterns, and multiple identities of the being. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that he is a member of an mysterious school. Certain of his pictures swept me right into the surrealist universe of Jodorosky, where the nude is an intrinsic characteristic of the human in a world where virtues and vices are exclaimed with a loud voice, where the unconscious pops forth and finds representation.
There are many things I see in his painting. And in william adolphe bouguereau doubt my assertions, take a look at the eyes of his characters, the mirror of the many souls of the world. Through my eyes in 2021 I can see in him a profound awareness of the realities of life, intellectual responsibility as well as a desire to dispel social taboos. He does all this in the most basic and "formal" ways, with the language of his day and without pretense or snobbery and without presumption or judgment, and above all with no violence, so that, at this moment in the text and in human history, it's the modernists that seem outdated to me.