La soeur aînée, réduction (c.1864)

Bouguereau, William-Adolphe (1825-1905)

La soeur aînée, réduction (The Elder Sister, reduction)
Oil on panel, 55.6 x 45.6 cm
Brooklyn MuseumNew York

Signed lower right on chest: “W Bouguereau”

This painting portrays a young woman dressed in garments that seem at once rustic and classical, cradling a small child. The title identifies the figures as siblings, but their tender, entwined poses intentionally recall Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. Such sentimentalized paintings appealed to a bourgeois clientele that appreciated delicately rendered Christian and humble domestic themes.

Many people who bought art for their homes in the nineteenth century preferred paintings such as William Bouguereau’s to those that displayed more radical approaches to brushwork and form. This was partly because their tastes were shaped by the burgeoning upper-middle-class merchant economy, which valued works that appeared fastidiously made over those that looked slapdash. Critics often compared painting techniques to types of labor, likening the polished surfaces and carefully modeled forms of academic painters such as Bouguereau to the delicate products of pastry chefs, and the thick, visible brushwork of avant-garde artists to the rough handiwork of bricklayers. (BkM)