William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Le Livre De Prix

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Le Livre De Prix

The young girl in this painting is Yvonne, one of Bouguereau’s favorite models. She and her two sisters, Jeanne and Marguerite, provided inspiration for many of the works painted in La Rochelle from 1893 on. While little is known about their personal biographies, their growth from infants to adolescents can be followed through a decade of compositions (as well as the occasional photograph taken in the artist's studio). From Yvonne’s first appearance in Allant à la fontaine (1893, J.B. Speed Museum, Louisville, Kentucky) to Les petites amies (1898, Collection of Fortnum & Mason) and the present work, it is clear that Bouguereau was sensitive to portraying her distinctive personality as much as her likeness. While many other sitters appear distracted by faraway thoughts, their gaze drifting beyond the picture plane, Yvonne is almost always portrayed with a direct stare that connects with the viewer and shows a clear expression of emotion and intelligence. Yvonne is about ten years old in Le livre de prix, and she appears to regard the viewer with the same curiosity that she has for the book she is reading.

The livre de prix refers to the often beautifully decorated red-jacketed "prize books" given to children as a reward, filled with stories of exotic adventure, illustrative etchings, and educational texts. In his 1681 Traité de l'éducation des filles (Treatise on the Education of Girls) the priest Fénelon suggested that beautiful books could be shared with well-deserving children, but it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that the tradition was commonly adopted in French schools.

While the work displays many of the hallmarks of Bouguereau’s most iconic paintings, Le livre de prix is distinguished by unique characteristics that set it apart, most notably the spare background and limited color palette. In order to highlight the figure and convey depth, Bouguereau typically sets his models against a vast landscape or deep in a forest. Although beautifully rendered and carefully modeled, the expanse of wall seen here is uncharacteristically bare. The neatly squared horizontal lines of the floor and baseboard offer the only anchor and provide a stage that grounds the painting. Eschewing dramatic contrast, Le livre de prix is a near monochromatic opus, the background’s expanse of warm white pigments close in value to those of her cotton dress, skin and hair. The modern-looking tableau is punctuated only by the lines of the ebonized chair, and the brilliant scarlet red of the book, also used in her lips and skin.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French: [buɡ(ə)ʁo]; November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter and traditionalist. In his realistic genre paintings he used mythological themes, making modern interpretations of classical subjects, with an emphasis on the female human body. During his life he enjoyed significant popularity in France and the United States, was given numerous official honors, and received top prices for his work. As the quintessential salon painter of his generation, he was reviled by the Impressionist avant-garde. By the early twentieth century, Bouguereau and his art fell out of favor with the public, due in part to changing tastes. In the 1980s, a revival of interest in figure painting led to a rediscovery of Bouguereau and his work.

Available as a fine art print  in the following sizes:
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