BOUGUEREAU, William-Adolphe
(b. 1825, La Rochelle, d. 1905, La Rochelle)

The Birth of Venus

Oil on canvas, 300 x 215 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The most common form of historicism that reused styles of past ages, often in eclectic combinations, was the sensual, seductive, stylish portrayal of beautiful women, the supposed subject could be taken from Christianity, or from Greek or Roman myth. Bouguereau, an academy member since 1876, was one of the foremost artists of this kind. A devout Catholic, he was out to oppose traditional ethical values to the materialism of the world about him, but all he managed was the frisson of superficial delights. There was an unbridgeable gap between his art and that of Renoir, or indeed Cézanne.

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