William-Adolphe Bouguereau was a French academic painter who sustained immense popularity in France and America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Bouguereau specialized in realistic paintings with religious, naturalist, and mythological themes. \nHe was highly respected in the academic art world but received criticism from the Impressionist avant-garde, including Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh.\n\nAs a traditional artist and one of the earliest modern artists, Bouguereau’s influential work reflected the changing tastes of the era and spanned many different styles.\n\n- __Early life__: Bouguereau was born on November 30, 1825, in La Rochelle, France. At age 12, he went to live with his uncle, a Catholic priest, to receive an education in biblical and classical subjects. Bouguereau studied theology at a Catholic college in Pons, where he also learned drawing skills under a neoclassical artist named Louis Sage. \n- __Training__: Bouguereau attended the Municipal School of Painting and Drawing. At the age of 20, he moved to Paris, where he studied under the gifted neoclassical painter François-Édouard Picot. Bouguereau excelled under Picot and gained admission to the esteemed École des Beaux-Arts, where he trained in painting, sculpture, history, and anatomy.\n- __Recognition__: Bouguereau’s 1850 painting *Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes* won the Grand Prix de Rome, an award for exceptional young artists with a scholarship prize to the French Academy in the Villa Medici in Rome. At the three-year residency, Bouguereau developed his skills and studied the masterpieces of many Renaissance artists.\n- __The French Salon__: In 1854, when the scholarship ended, Bouguereau returned to his hometown of La Rochelle, where he continued painting in the Neoclassical style. His work grew in popularity due to annual exposure at the French Salon and was in constant demand—in 1856, he received a commission from Emperor Napoleon III. \n- __Personal life__: Bouguereau began a relationship with one of his models, the 19-year-old Nelly Monchablon, in 1854. She would become his wife in 1866. Bouguereau and Monchablon had five children together, but three died in infancy. \n- __Style shift__: While he always remained a staunch traditionalist, around the 1860s, Bouguereau shifted from painting historical subjects to realistic genre paintings. After his wife died in 1877, Bouguereau created a series of melancholic religious paintings. \n- __Later life__: Bouguereau spent the final few decades of his life teaching and mentoring young artists in the academic style, and several of his students achieved great success in their careers. Bouguereau died from heart disease at his home in La Rochelle on August 19, 1905, at age 79.\nBouguereau used well-established and classic techniques in his works.\n\n1. __Detailed oil and pencil studies__: Bouguereau’s attentive approach to detail created accurate depictions of the human body—he especially excelled at painting hands and feet. \n2. __Female human body__: Bouguereau’s works often featured nude females in rustic and domestic settings. This romanticization particularly appealed to wealthy American collectors.\n3. __Realism__: Bouguereau's works had a polished, academic style that clashed heavily with the genre of Impressionism, which promoted the idea that artists should paint expressively without the restraints of realism.\nBouguereau's oeuvre features numerous portraits and hundreds of modern interpretations of classical subjects.\n\n1. __*Dante and Virgil in Hell* (1850)__: Bouguereau's depiction of an episode from Dante's *Divine Comedy* shows Gianni Schicchi attacking Capocchio as a demon while other doomed souls linger in a hellfire background. This piece was more grisly and grotesque than most of Bouguereau's previous works.\n2. __*Pietà* (1876)__: In Bouguereau’s painted pietà, Mary's face is partially shrouded by a black veil while golden aureoles encircle both Mary’s and Jesus' heads. A cluster of mourning angels surrounds these two figures. Bouguereau modeled the position of Jesus' head and shoulders on Michelangelo's *Pietà* sculpture in St. Peter's Basilica. \n3. __*The Birth of Venus* (1879)__: In this scene from Roman mythology, Bouguereau painted the goddess Venus standing on a seashell above the ocean, surrounded by a crowd of nymphs, cherubs, and tritons, all lovingly gazing in her direction. The piece was inspired by Raphael's *The Triumph of Galatea* and Sandro Botticelli's *Birth of Venus*, which Bouguereau studied at the Villa Medici in Rome.\n4. __*A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros* (1880)__: This mythological scene shows a young girl sitting on a stone block and pushing away Cupid and his arrow of love. Bouguereau set the scene in an idyllic, rustic environment, juxtaposing the fantastical subjects with a realistic setting.\n5. __*The Young Shepherdess* (1885)__: This oil painting depicts a young shepherdess in a pastoral setting. The barefoot subject is pictured looking over her shoulder, holding a plant in her hands behind her back. The serene scene of blue skies and rolling green fields features sheep in the background.\nGrab the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com) and plumb the depths of your creativity with the help of modern artist Jeff Koons, abstract artist Futura, and stage designer Es Devlin. Our exclusive video lessons will teach you to do things like utilize color and scale, explore the beauty in everyday objects, and so much more.\nFrench academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau was best known for realistic paintings in Neoclassical settings.