Thursday, 7 January 2016

Favourite Paintings: Nymphs and Satyr

Nymphs and Satyr - Bouguereau

When I was at art school, in the 60's, some artists were considered so naff that even to mention them in a favourable light was enough to brand you as irredeemably low-brow. Artists such as Draper, Alma-Tadema, Cabanel, Gerome, Cot and many others, but above all William Bouguereau. His myriad of pretty children, perfect young women and middle-brow narratives were the very antithesis of the thrusting, modern, questioning 60's ethos. The art establishment universally derided the skill and apparent lack of struggle and of course the sentimentality. The theatrical painterliness, personalised and everyday subjects and scientistic theorising of the impressionists had made him seem unworthy and immoral.

Paintings like:

'Young Shepherdess' - Bouguereau

'Lookout for love' - Bouguereau

I had a problem because I loved the stuff, it was what made me want to be an artist. However, there was enough to learn about other greats such as Degas, Manet and the old masters to deflect me from the unfashionable. Also, when I actually saw some Bouguereau in the flesh, because of the passion for painterliness at the time I was disappointed by, and surprised at, the lack of impasto or any signs of technique on the surface. It was as if they had been made by a machine. At that time I hadn't seen the workings;

Or the drawings;

And I didn't know then what I know now, that the easiest-looking effects in painting are often the hardest won.

For many years now, I have regarded the art establishment's attitude to Bouguereau as self serving ignorance and dismissal. If they were to promote him to prominence and admiration most of the artists now vaunted in museums and public galleries would be laughed at - wrongly in some cases.

The reasons I chose this painting are firstly the lighthearted and generous subject, no serious or arcane meanings to interrupt the enjoyment of the facts. Secondly the wonderful rhythm of the forms in the foreground and the throwaway gesture which brings to attention the distant group. Then there is the rich and evocative glade of the space and the lighting which would not disgrace a modern 3D film artist. Not a deep painting but one which gives a lot of pleasure

Nymphs and Satyr has long been one of my favourites and over the years I've happily filched ideas from - or to use the record industry phrase "paid homage to" Bouguereau's paintings.

'Well' 2013


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I shall look at my next Bouguereau with a renewed interest; thank you

  3. Interesting, insightful reflection on your inspiration.

  4. Bouguereau's female mythological figures are always sublime as are yours Harry. A much unappreciated artist.