William Bouguereau (1825-1905): The Birth of Venus, 1879

William Bouguereau (1825-1905): The Birth of Venus, 1879

1/25/2021, 3:59:07 PM
William Bouguereau (1825-1905): The Birth of Venus, 1879, Oil on canvas, 300 x 215 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris In Bouguereau's interpretation of 'The Birth of Venus' from Roman mythology, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, emerges from sea-foam standing on a shell, traversing the water to reach land. A flock of nymphs, tritons, and putti surround her in admiration while, in a take on the classic  contrapposto stance of Venus Anadyomene from antiquity, the goddess accentuates the curves of her body in alternate directions, while adjusting her hair. Cool pastel colours evoke the dewy atmosphere of the marine world. For this composition, Bouguereau drew inspiration from Renaissance masterworks such as Raphael's 'The Triumph of Galatea' (c. 1514), with its encircling halo of cherubs, and Sandro Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' (1486), both of which Bouguereau had studied in Italy. Unlike Raphael and Botticelli's nudes, however, Bouguereau's Venus is captured with a refined naturalism indicating the new artistic tastes of the 1870s, without thereby foregoing Neoclassical artifice. As such, the work rises to the challenge of the late-19th-century Salon painter as described by T.J. Clark: to negotiate the flesh of a modern woman in Naturalist style while clinging to the Academic ideal of "the body as a sign, formal and generalized, meant for a token of composure and fulfillment." In its technical perfection, Bouguereau's Venus appears realistic, yet she remains displaced from individual identity, safely confined to the role of an ideal. This proved to be a successful (and profitable) combination, and Bouguereau received great acclaim for this painting at the 1879 Salon.

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