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Old 07-07-2008, 03:18 PM   #11
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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Thanks for sharing that experience, David!

It's well to remember that as recently as 30-40 years ago, Allen Funt (originator of TVs "Candid Camera") was buying Bouguereaus, Fochs and the works of other top tier painters of the Gilded Age at unbelievably low prices . . . mostly for the purpose of ridiculing them as "kitsch", and to thumb his nose at "knowledgeable art collectors" who wouldn't have touched them with a barge pole.

While his magnificent "Nymphs and Satyr" sold for $10,000 in 1873 - (the equivalent of $400,000 in gold today) then graced the barroom of Hoffman House in NYC, (watering hole of presidents, senators, the super-wealthy - "the" place to be) the Clarks bought it for $5k in the 1940's (far less than a quarter of its original value, adjusted for inflation).

At the end of his life, Bouguereau was already well on the way to becoming obscure; reviled and ridiculed by the modernists, post-modernists and all who followed as a prime example of "bad taste" and "what was wrong with academic art", when he was mentioned at all.

When I was in art school, (early '70s) of the art history courses I took, the only reference to Bouguereau and the mainstream of 19th Century art of which he was the fore-front, was a single footnote in one of the sizeable required textbooks ( "Mainstreams of Modern Art" - the name says it all) which excoriated Bouguereau et al for their insipid, sentimental, formulaic and superficial work without so much as an accompanying illustration - perhaps the authors felt their hard-sell wouldn't play as well in the face of an actual example.

Appreciation for Bouguereau and 19th century academic art in general is a relatively new and tentative facet of art history and appreciation since 1900, as it flies in the face of the established "party line" to which most university art programs adhere . . . at least in this country. Apparently he's not doing all that well in France, either.

Hilstory will eventually be "fair", I think. Even Rembrandt was reviled in his own time, and obscure to forgotten for long years afterward. Vermeer's small opus was lost entirely to view for over a century. Fads come and go and tastes change with the times. What is truly worthy in the art of the centuries eventually comes to the fore, to be appreciated as having intrinsic merit.
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Old 07-07-2008, 03:46 PM   #12
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Quote:
) which excoriated Bouguereau et al for their insipid, sentimental, formulaic and superficial work
Wasn't it? When I lived in Paris I did get to see quite a lot of their work and those adjectives certainly seem to fit so in what way do his supporters here feel differently? As I said in my earlier post - admiring their technique is one thing but calling it great art is something entirely different and I would like to see supporters argue the case. In what way wasn't their art pandering to conservative bourgeois bad taste?
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Old 07-07-2008, 04:56 PM   #13
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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Do you want my personal opinion? (I'm not a "worshipper" of Bouguereau). I feel much of that criticism is fair and deserved. While Bouguereau was a consummate technician, not even a quarter of his works (of the ones I've seen - as repros and "in the flesh") measure up to "Nymphs and Satyr" which I feel is a helluva fine painting for anyone, for any time or place.

We're still far too close to WB's time to be objective. That you indicate a " . . . pandering to bourgeoise, conservative bad taste . . ." indicates our placement historically, politically and economically is as yet too near and too polarized for us to be truly objective.

In what time or place has a major art form (i.e., the most "successful", ergo "visible" art) NOT "pandered" to the tastes of those who make it ubiquitous, either through patronage, or in the marketplace, or in the popular imagination by being attractively enjoyable and well, . . . popular? If you can systematically and objectively define "bad taste", you are well on the way to answering the question: "What is art?

Disconnection with the themes and aesthetics of Bouguereau's time has more to do with cataclysmic changes wrought by World War I (which still resonate throughout today's culture) than native dislikes of certain subject matter or subjective handlings of imagery.

There's no question that in the rush to be "honest", "bohemian", "real", "vital", "iconoclast", "original" "shocking" etc., etc., after 1900 the direction of the art deemed "important" by critics and cogniscenti was to surmount if not eliminate the academies. The baby was thrown out with the bath-water in the de-emphasis on craft, technique and knowledge of materials which resulted. It was successful to such a degree that these considerations for the making of art have come perilously close to extinction.

A backlash realization that many things of value have been lost during the past century quite naturally includes renewed interest in the works of Bouguereau and his peers. While it's a mistake to superimpose currently prevailing tastes, mores and sensibilities upon artworks made in different times and places, it's quite true that the art which endures, art that is truly worthy, transcends such transient considerations.
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Old 07-07-2008, 05:41 PM   #14
Mischa Milosevic Mischa Milosevic is offline
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Even though the art of this man is technically sound, this man portrays much more than what the casual eye may see. First one must understand the time in which he lived. Next, one must understand the moment and conditions for many of the paintings painted. Each painting, besides the study and tech, unveils much of the symbolisms of that time within religious circles as well as political. Notice that he did not paint many political figures. One can wonder why that is?
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Old 07-07-2008, 07:34 PM   #15
David Draime David Draime is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Dransfield
Wasn't it? When I lived in Paris I did get to see quite a lot of their work and those adjectives certainly seem to fit so in what way do his supporters here feel differently? As I said in my earlier post - admiring their technique is one thing but calling it great art is something entirely different and I would like to see supporters argue the case. In what way wasn't their art pandering to conservative bourgeois bad taste?
Peter, I think you raise some important points and valid criticisms that certainly should not be dismissed out of hand. Many of Bouguereau's paintings - to our twenty-first century eyes - may strike us as overly sentimental or romantic, but I think what keeps them from becoming "insipid" or "superficial" is first of all, his consummate skill and craftmanship. In the hands of an even slightly lesser artist, I think your argument would be unassailable. But in Bouguereau's case, it is more than just "technique," as masterful as his was. It is the vision of the artist and his ability to articulate atmosphere and convey, in the most subtle ways, mood and personality. In this way his work transcends the Salon conventions of his day - the "conservative bourgeois" trappings that, before the Impressionists came along, was the matrix that all serious artists were obliged to work within (or against).

And isn't that what great art is all about? Not that the artist rejects their time and place necessarily, but he/she transcends it, and by so doing creates a work that resonates with people across cultures and centuries - a work that somehow reminds us, in a profound way, what it means to be human - regardless of the specific cultural or painting conventions (those are a given), or even the subject matter, that characterize the work. And of course, the work of most artists - of whatever century - will never rise to that level. They will never be called "Masters."

For the most part, WB painted idealized visions that are either religious or allegorical. And of course being a painter of his time - and as Richard points out, "it's a mistake to superimpose currently prevailing tastes, mores and sensibilities upon artworks made in different times and places" - in order to appreciate Bouguereau (or any painter of allegorical or religious imagery before him) we must entertain a certain "suspension of disbelief." Otherwise, we couldn't relate to it. The symbolism is not of our time.

And if you say that because Bouguereau was gladly and sucessfully working within the Salon system, he was "pandering to conservative bourgeois...taste" - then I suppose we could say the same about the art of Michaelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt (who in his earlier years was an acclaimed and much sought-after portrait painter), and on and on. They were all working (pandering) for the rich and powerful, trying to create pictures that, using the pictoral conventions of the day, would satisfy their powerful clients and, hopefully, themselves. Richard is right, I think, on that point.

I would disagree with Richard when he says "we're still far too close to WB's time to be objective." I think we've moved on far enough from the great Salon/ Impressionist debates of the late 19th century to be able to assess the work of that period with a healthy degree of objectivity - although we're still talking about art, which will, to some degree, remain subjective.

And on that note , to buttress my arguments I humbly offer the following: WB's portrait of Gabrielle Cot - in my way of looking at things, one of the finest portraits ever painted - by anyone. Anyone who can paint THIS ...I think is worthy of some serious attention.

Conservative?...certainly. Idealized?...yes. Sentimental?...maybe. Insipid, formulaic, superficial...? Well, you be the judge.
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Old 07-08-2008, 05:47 AM   #16
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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The second half of the 19th century in France not only produced Bouguereau and the other academic painters it also produced Millet, Daumier, Courbet as well as Degas, Monet, Cezanne etc and I do not judge Bouguereau in isolation from what those others were doing and incidentally what they thought of his work.

Degas probably coined the term 'Bouguereaute' by which he meant art based on 'slick and artificial surfaces' and so it was his contempories that treated his beautifully rendered but insipid sentimentality with contempt, not only modern critics.

Courbet famously said he "didn't paint angels because he never saw one" and he touched on the heart of the matter. Realism is not about technique - it is about the truth and honesty in rendering the world around us. Bourguereau idealised whereas Courbet, Degas and Manet gave us truth. You give me a portrait of a pretty woman and I give you a woman squatting over her tin bath; you give me Satyrs and angels and I give you a boating party and peasants breaking stones.

Great technique does not stop art from being insipid neither is it sufficient to produce great art. Michelangelo had many a dispute with his patrons over his art as later did Klimt but I rather suspect this was not the case with Bouguereau. He was producing Kitsch art for a French bourgeousie keen on aping the 'ancien regime' - Courbet, Degas and Monet saw it and saw with clarity the sterility of this.

One of the more amusing quotes I have read was on the rather ridiculous 'Art renewal' site in which they quote Degas and Monet as saying that in the year 2000 Bouguereau would be remembered as the greatest of 19th C French artists and some here agree failing to realise that the quote was clearly meant to be.... ironic and a ****ing but realistic appraisal of the vulgarity of future public taste.

Art must be judged not in isolation but in relationship to its time and place and considering what else was being offered by French artists at the same time and place Bouguereau is very thin if elegent consumme to their meaty and hearty fair.

Art is not about technique. Great art does not require great technique nor does Kitsch art require its absence. Technique helps tell whatever story we want to tell but it can never replace it.
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Old 07-08-2008, 05:52 AM   #17
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Curious D..A..M..N was replaced with astorisks, what is this? Some kind of bizarre American prudishness?
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Old 07-08-2008, 06:09 AM   #18
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mischa Milosevic
Even though the art of this man is technically sound, this man portrays much more than what the casual eye may see. First one must understand the time in which he lived. Next, one must understand the moment and conditions for many of the paintings painted. Each painting, besides the study and tech, unveils much of the symbolisms of that time within religious circles as well as political. Notice that he did not paint many political figures. One can wonder why that is?
I imagine that religious conservatives did see meaning in his work and perhaps Bouguereau was sincere in providing them with ways to shut out the modern world. France had already had Voltaire, Darwin was known to the world and barricades punctuated the century.

There is nothing to say that Art must always be on the side of change yet so often throughout the centuries it has been the case - at least great Art has.
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Old 07-08-2008, 10:05 AM   #19
SB Wang SB Wang is offline
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David:
Two former "communist", two conditions:
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Old 07-08-2008, 11:36 AM   #20
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Richard,

Thanks for your reply. Both you and David put forward reasonable points but are they accurate with regards to B and to the 20th century?

Quote:
Disconnection with the themes and aesthetics of Bouguereau's time has more to do with cataclysmic changes wrought by World War I (which still resonate throughout today's culture) than native dislikes of certain subject matter or subjective handlings of imagery.
Certainly WW1 did represent a fracture, for example 1918 saw the deaths of several of the Vienna giants including Klimt but I don't agree that the view of the aesthetics of B are seen through that prism since Degas and Monet not to mention Courbet before them had already rejected the superficiality as they saw it of the academic painters.

The 20th century was a vibrant century that gave us Matisse, Picasso, Ernst, Rivera, Giacometti, Hopper, Hockney, Moore, Freud and Coldstream just to mention a random few. I agree that the latter decades of the century were tough if you were interested in rigourous figurative training but the century was rich, expressive and diverse.
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