Nymphes et Satyre [Nymphs and Satyr], 1873
Oil on canvas, 102.36 x 70.87 inches [260 x 180 cm]
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown
Fact is Bouguereau paintings are somewhat flawless. Top quality anatomy and composition are enhanced with professional surfaces as well as an understanding of human nature and psychology. Bouguereau's figure subjects seem to be real people, not idealized archetypes or neo-classical echoes. While he was a part of the 19th century boom in feminine purity, the floralization of women, floating in air, nymphs and satyr stuff, as well as re-workings of Renaissance religious motifs, Bouguereau paintings charms and transfixes with high ideals and exalted spirits. Retro subject matter aside, a lot of his latter-day success is part of the flight to quality that is taking place these days. No one can stand in front of the 6 foot by 9 foot "Nymphs and Satyr" (see above) without being knocked over. There's a similarly large painting on the same subject by Paul Cezanne called "Bacchanal." To compare both paintings we can say: A composition by a person who doesn't understand composition, drawn by a non-draughtsman, painted by someone who can't paint." One could not say that about a Bouguereau.