Adolphe William Bouguereau or William-Adolphe Bouguereau (November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter.
Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle.
A student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he won the Prix de Rome in 1850 and his realistic genre paintings and mythological themes were exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Paris Salon for his entire working life. Although he fell into obscurity in the early 20th century, due perhaps to his staunch opposition to the Impressionists, there is a new appreciation for his work. In his lifetime, Bouguereau painted eight hundred and twenty-six paintings.
In his own time, Bouguereau was considered to be one of the greatest painters in the world. In 1900, his contemporaries Degas and Monet reportedly named him as most likely to be remembered as the greatest 19th-century French painter by the year 2000, according to chairman Fred Ross of the Art Renewal Center - although with Degas' famous trenchant wit, and the aesthetic tendencies of the two Impressionists, it is possible the statement was meant as an ironic comment on the taste of the future public. Bouguereau's works were eagerly bought, at high prices, especially by American millionaires. After about 1920, Bouguereau fell into disrepute. Some assert this may have been consciously engineered by the new "art expert establishment", who resented his former opposition to new developments in painting, but it is likely that more profound societal factors were instrumental to this enormous shift in taste and sensibility. For decades, his name was not even mentioned in encyclopedias. Today, over one hundred museums throughout the world exhibit his works.
At a rather advanced age, Bouguereau was married for the second time, to fellow artist Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau, one of his pupils. He also used his influence to open many French art institutions to women for the first time, including the Académie française.
He died in La Rochelle.
Real name dilemma
Sources on his full name are contradictory; some give William-Adolphe Bouguereau (composed name), William Adolphe Bouguereau (usual and civil-only names according to the French tradition), while others give Adolphe William Bouguereau (with Adolphe as the usual name). However, the artist used to sign his works simply as William Bouguereau (hinting "William" was his given name, whatever the order), or more precisely as "W.Bouguereau.date" (French alphabet) and later as "W-BOVGVEREAV-date" (Latin alphabet).
His first modern exhibition appeared in 1974 at the New York Cultural Center as a curiosity. In 1984 the Borghi Gallery hosted the commercial show of his 23 oil paintings and 1 drawing. In the same year a major exhibition was organized by the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, in Canada. The exhibition opened at the Musée du Petit-Palais, in Paris, traveled to The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, and concluded in Montréal. This was the beginning of renewal of interest about Bouguereau. In 1997 Mark Borghi and Laura Borghi organized an early Internet exhibition.